Why Bill Belichick's, Patriots' 'Lack of Class' Is Actually Killer Instinct

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIJanuary 2, 2012

You had to do a double-take when you saw it. The game between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills had long been over, with New England scoring nearly 50 straight points and recording four interceptions against an increasingly crestfallen Ryan Fitzpatrick en route to a 49-21 lead.

The Patriots offense was winding down, with Brian Hoyer in the game, but then it wasn't. The Patriots called a go route down the left sideline from their own 19-yard line with 1:30 left, with Hoyer hitting Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for a first down.

After that, it was business as usual with a 28-point lead. Kneel down, kneel down, kneel down. Game over.

But after the game, people weren't forgetting the pass. Reporters asked if it was a play designed to give Gronkowski the season record for receiving yards by a tight end, and Belichick, to the likely surprise of everyone in the room, admitted it was.

It was the sort of play that Belichick often comes under fire for. A play designed to gain yardage and/or points in garbage time, when the opponent has already been defeated. This play wasn't intended to score points, but in the past, they have been, and Belichick has had his class called into question, and been accused of running up the score.

Baloney. Belichick instead shows a drive for his team to play at its absolute best, and there is a difference. Running up the score is meant to teach your opponent a lesson. Belichick is trying to teach a lesson to his own players.

Since Belichick turned the Patriots into a winning organization in 2001, his mission has been simple, but effective. You play 60 minutes. No exceptions.

Because Belichick knows what happens if you don't. He saw it in 2009, when the Patriots were skilled at building large first-half leads, and equally adept at watching them evaporate after halftime.

He's seeing it this year. The Patriots treat the first quarter like an extra 15 minutes of warm-ups. Then they come out in the second, roll up their sleeves and get to work. It's worked so far, but Belichick knows it's a recipe for disaster in the playoffs. He reminds them of that routinely, and how far they go in the playoffs may depend on how soon they get the memo.

Belichick has his players trained to go for the kill because he knows those chances can be fleeting. His team just overcame a 21-point deficit. Leads can go away in a hurry in the NFL.

Belichick doesn't have to have the Patriots go for it on 4th-and-goal with a lead to show this drive. In 2009, the Patriots, leading Jacksonville 35-0, gave up a fourth-quarter touchdown. Belichick chewed them out.

Last year, the Patriots were on their way to a 45-3 win over the Jets when the whole defense was called together late in the second half. Belichick chewed them out.

You play 60 minutes. No exceptions.

Well, almost no exceptions. But even that game showed Belichick's mantra. For him, winning regular season games is important only so far as it prepares you to win in the playoffs.

In 2005, Belichick let Doug Flutie kick and Matt Cassel play because he wanted no part of the third seed and a game with Pittsburgh. He wanted the fourth seed and a game with Jacksonville. The Patriots beat the Jaguars a week later, and those Steelers went on to a Super Bowl title.

Belichick knew a loss would help the Patriots in their Super Bowl hopes. So there were drop kicks and two-point conversion passes hummed at the sidelines galore.

But, more to the point, Belichick knew what he had in that team. That veteran group had won three Super Bowls. He didn't have to order them to play 60 minutes. They already knew.

Lately, it's been different. Belichick is back to teaching again, and instructing. And young players, for all their talent, sometimes have to learn to win. And those lessons can come even when it appears they've already won.

It's not excessive, and it's not uncalled for. Belichick knows this Patriots team needs to make every play it can if it wants to make it to Indianapolis.

And if you want to call it classless, go ahead. Nice guys finish last, anyway.


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