Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

For a Team That 'Ignores the Noise,' the Patriots Sure Seem to Hear a Lot of It

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Ignore the noise?


It’s been one of Bill Belichick’s most popular mantras since arriving in New England more than a decade ago, but if you believe what Bob Kraft told Stephen A. Smith on the latter’s Sirius/XM radio show on Thursday, isn’t it clear that the Patriots, in fact, embrace criticism?

That would seem to fly directly into the wind of Bill Belichick’s edict, but we’ve seen and heard plenty of evidence already this season that proves the team has used the doubt of popular opinion to spur them on a five-game winning streak heading into this week’s bye.

It was, of course, a strategy once used by Belichick to soaring success, using the degrading comments of the Patriots’ peer as motivation (poor Ryan Clark probably still doesn’t know what hit him), no matter how innocuous or degrading the words. From “They hate their coach” to whatever tiny morsel the likes of Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison could twist into something derogatory.

Why wouldn’t they? It worked tremendously.

Just don’t tell me it’s not part of the package this time as well.

“With all due respect, I mean really,” Belichick said after the Patriots beat the Bengals early last month, a win that came at the tail end of a week that saw widespread criticism (and panic) of the 2-2 team from the media and fans. “Look, we have a job to do. We're focused on doing that job. We're not going to sit around and listen to what everybody else says. We try to do the best we can.”

Of course, that was the same game after which an emotional Rob Gronkowski told the media that he was determined to make Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after people started to wonder aloud about a decline in the quarterback’s skills, while others (hello) opined the reasons why it made sense for the Patriots to entertain trading him prior to the NFL deadline in late October.

"I told my brother before I came to the game, 'I'm gonna make 12 look like Tom Brady again, baby,'" Gronkowski said. "And I went out there with my teammates and we made Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after you guys were criticizing him all week. The fans, everything. And it feels so good and he's such a leader and he went over 50,000 yards today. He's an unbelievable player and I'm so glad to play with him."

Sure sounds like somebody listened to the “noise” that Belichick preached to have little time for.

Including his boss.

“I know all the sages in the media were calling for us to trade [Brady], or sit him, and Belichick had lost it,” Kraft said on Sirius/XM Thursday. “But maybe in a way it was a good thing because it just shook us up. In moments of crisis you either rise to great things or you crumble. And our guys came together. We have a great group of guys in the locker room. They really rallied.”

In fact, Kraft himself admitted that he was concerned about the direction of his team after the 43-21 wallop the Patriots took in Kansas City to close out a less-than-spectacular September, during which their two wins came against the winless Oakland Raiders and the now-4-5 Minnesota Vikings.

“I was definitely worried, because you don’t know,” Kraft said. “This isn't a game of robots.

“When probably a third to 40 percent of your roster is turnover, you don't know if the mental toughness is there. I'm just happy it came back.”

Kraft called the loss at the hands of the Chiefs possibly “the worst beating I've had as an owner, and definitely in the Belichick era.” We’d probably argue it was that game in Arizona almost some seven years ago against the New York Giants rather than a regular season game in September, but maybe we’re nitpicking.

The point here is that even Kraft seemed to recognize that there was something amiss with the way the Patriots plodded through September, and that, just maybe, it wasn’t exactly the media-driven creation of fallacy that some wanted to make it out to be.

Of course, since that Monday night disaster, the Patriots have gone on to beat the Bengals, Bills, Jets, Bears and Broncos by an aggregate score of 201-108. At 37, Brady looks as good as he ever has, Gronkowski looks perhaps better than he ever has, and players like Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Shane Vereen have helped revive an offense that had any number of whipping targets, from the porous offensive line to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel’s schizophrenic play-calling.

If some of that came because of a little bit of anger over their perception, what’s wrong with that?

It clearly works for the Patriots.

Ignoring the noise sounds like a great plan in principle, but let’s not kid ourselves; Belichick uses it to his advantage when there’s an air of vulnerability in his troops.

“When you leave here,” reads the sign exiting the Patriots locker room:

* Don't believe or fuel the hype

* Manage expectations

* Ignore the noise

* Speak for yourself

Belichick, in fact, uses the noise and fuels the hype. Nothing wrong with that.

With all due respect.

I mean, really.

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