The Patriots consider the Jets as Patriots wannabees and Rex Ryan a Bill Belichick wannabe. The Patriots deem the Jets obsessed. And it has been this way, in the Patriots' view, since their trio of Super Bowl championship runs in the last decade. It intensified in the last couple of seasons when Ryan arrived in New York telling everyone that he would not be kissing Belichick's rings.
So, Belichick hears Ryan's rants this week, about how their divisional playoff matchup at New England on Sunday is all about the coaches and considers it nonsense. He does not call it that for all to hear. But I bet that Belichick is privately musing:
I'm 14-2. I've had a playoff bye to prepare. I've been to four Super Bowls as a head coach. I have won three championships as a head coach. You have none. Now, if this were the other way around, maybe I would bite. But why should I respond when I'm the best coach in the game with the best record in the game as a head coach since I've been here? Why talk when you can't touch me? You need at least five or six years of whipping my butt and at least three championships for me to even entertain you. How many rings do you have, again?''
Rex is Rex.
Bill is Bill.
The chatter surrounding Belichick and the Patriots that they refuse to address openly still finds its way from Patriots locker to Patriots locker. The Patriots know exactly what is being said and who is saying it, Ryan and all.
The Patriots prepare to beat you, embarrass you on the field.
Belichick this season took a young defense, simplified his defensive approach and put the ball in Brady's and the offense's hands to assist his defense. The Patriots offense scored the most points (518) in the league this season. With that offensive complement, it has been a much less taxing path for the Patriots defense.
The hand that Belichick is dealing is his doing. He makes the decisions that matter with the Patriots. He looked at a 10-6 record and 33-14 playoff disaster at home dispensed by the Ravens last January and rattled his team for 2010, dispensing of half of his roster and nearly half of his starters. He drafted with precision last April for this Super Bowl run. He enticed the proper, fitting free agents with clarity and deftness.
And the makeover continued into the season.
On Oct. 6, Belichick dispatched receiver Randy Moss and a week later he lassoed receiver Deion Branch.
Deion Branch Returns to New England
This temperament is a signature move that helps define this group of Patriots. Belichick returned to his coaching roots this season -- back to a roster that was more primed to incline its ear to his teaching, back to a style of game that spread the wealth and the ball and responsibilities.
He went back to Branch -- who bolted in 2006 via a trade to Seattle, a time when Branch claimed the Patriots were not negotiating in good faith and amid tampering chargers concerning Branch levied by the Patriots against, you guessed it, the Jets.
Belichick this season went back to his Super Bowl XXIX MVP.
Overall, it was business,'' said Branch of their old split. "No hard feelings about the situation, because it takes two sides to agree and we couldn't agree. This happens every day in business. I got to Seattle and it was different players, a different vibe. Four seasons of ups and downs. The last three years I had three different coaches (Mike Holmgren, Jim Mora, Pete Carroll).''
The Seahawks wanted Branch to be a No. 1 receiver.
The Patriots and Belichick wanted him back to be an "everywhere'' receiver. To put more "flex'' in the Patriots' flexible offense. Branch has done that. He can play multiple positions, left or right, slot or outside. He is dynamic in space even at age 31, his ninth pro season.
And Branch has Brady's trust.
Trust with Brady means you flourish.
In 11 Patriots games, Branch has 48 receptions for 706 yards and five touchdowns.
The gall to take back Branch lends insight on Belichick, on the Patriots as Branch describes his return:
"I was flying back,'' he began. "Halfway here before landing, it really hit me and I realized I was coming back to where things really all started for me in the NFL. I got off the plane. We went to the hotel, my wife and kids, and then the limo dropped me off at the facility. I hit the door. I walk in. Coach Belichick is standing there. Business as usual. I expected nothing more or less. No box of chocolates or flowers.
"I shook his hand and he said congratulations. He gives me a list of 25 plays and says, 'Know these plays by the time you return from your physical.' I had two hours of sleep. You think, well, the first couple of days with the team you're just going to watch things and get acclimated. He had me practicing the next day. Big game up against the Ravens. 'Get your pads and we need you -- get ready to play,' he said.
"All the guys were in the locker room. It just so happened when I came they were in their break. I saw a bunch of guys, a bunch of faces. Some new faces. Some guys I had shared time with. Won Super Bowls with. It felt like I never left. With Tom (Brady), nothing had changed. The same. Still a great person. Guys evolve off the field just like on the field. That happened with me and Tom. You win a championship and something special happens. The love and respect and care for one another is always right there. We spend more time with these guys than we do with our own families. I felt like I never left.''
Branch says he is a wiser and smarter receiver now. Like Belichick, he will never say he is better than this guy or that guy, but also like Belichick, he will outwork you, out-think you, try to get that edge on every play. He will do whatever the Patriots need him to do
He is the model Belichick player.
On a model Belichick team.
"He's a teacher of the game,'' Branch says of Belichick. "In this game of football you have a bunch of guys, football players, who think they know all of the answers and know everything. You meet this guy and the way he really breaks it down and you realize you know nothing. He continues to teach me every day. I sit in the meetings sometimes and he puts something out there and I take it and put it on the shelf and think, 'Man, if I ever coach one day, I'm going to use that.' "
The Jets are next. Ryan is next.
But the Patriots' focus is inward.
"The sky is the limit,'' Branch said. "Who knows? But we are continuing to build camaraderie and trust for each other. What happens now is what we put into it is what we are going to get out of it. And we are all looking for the same type of reward. We are expecting that.''
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