Win One for the Cheater
Why the enraged Patriots will go undefeated.
It's why, absent catastrophic injury, New England can win every football game it plays this season.
For years, the rest of the NFL has chafed at the ability of the Patriots to play Poor Widdle Us while pushing the envelope of league regulations on everything from the injury list, to media obligations, to what you can and can't do on the sidelines. If, ironically, Goodell is Nixon as "the president," then Belichick is the Nixon who hired the "plumbers," right down to the ludicrous written statement that remains his only public comment on the affair and which lacks only a reference to his mother, the saint, to match old Tricky's farewell speech for unmitigated smarm. When Belichick finally got caught this week, you may have noticed that the rest of the league wasn't exactly rallying to his side. Jerome Bettis grabbed onto a retroactive alibi for having been whipped by New England over the past decade, and Tony Dungy offered a plaintive "what-about-the-children" rumination that was just inches from actual sincerity. This was not an accident. In many ways, everybody in the NFL is against the Patriots, and a lot of them have damned good reason for being so.
However, the only thing that New England didn't pick up in the offseason was a cause, and now it has one, especially if the investigation is as thorough and ongoing as Goodell seems to be saying it will be. It is possible that we will have a revelation a week in which, as New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi put it after Sunday night's game, New England's "integrity" comes into question. More ill-feeling. More bad blood. More grist for Belichick's endlessly grinding motivation mill. Moreover, the players seemed all week to resent most that their work in winning three Super Bowls suddenly had been devalued by their coach's misbehavior. That's the obverse of a general feeling that has arisen among Patriots in recent years—that their own talents have been made subordinate to their coach's alleged genius.
One of these is inspiration enough. Both of them together is a volatile mix. If more sordid details come out, and Goodell feels obligated to suspend Belichick for a week, the New England players themselves might beat some team 100-0. The whole mishegas puts the 1972 Miami Dolphins' distinction as the only team to play an entire NFL season undefeated in serious jeopardy. Roger Goodell did the right thing last week, but he also created a situation in which, come February, when the Patriots win the Super Bowl, and he has to hand the trophy to Bill Belichick, it's perfectly plausible to wonder if it shouldn't be the other way around.