Commentary

Who's picking on the Patriots?

Belichick tries to use media predictions as motivational tool

Updated: October 4, 2010, 6:37 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The New England Patriots have channeled their inner Rodney Harrison this week. If there was one defining theme resonating throughout the locker room in the days leading up to Monday night's clash against the Miami Dolphins, it was this: No one believes in us!

Invoking the no-respect card was a Harrison specialty when he played in New England from 2003 to 2008, and it was something the Patriots often rallied around when they were at their best.

With no Harrison in the locker room this year, the catalyst for the no-one-believes-in-us mantra has been none other than head coach Bill Belichick.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonUsing an old Patriots ploy, Bill Belichick apparently made sure his players knew many in the media are picking against them Monday night.

According to players, Belichick drew their attention to the latest issue of Patriots Football Weekly. He wasn't testing their reading comprehension, but instead pointing out that the team-owned newspaper had a section in which "experts" made their NFL predictions. All nine of them picked Miami.

The message must have stuck because when this reporter (whose predictions appear in the newspaper) visited players in the locker room in the ensuing days of Belichick's behind-the-scenes message, one of the first questions asked was "So, who did you pick in the game?"

One such inquisitor might be expected, two may be a coincidence. But three … four … five?

The players knew the answer, so the question was loaded. The chips on their shoulder pads were growing larger by the end of the week.

Belichick has done this before in different forms, and perhaps it will be the spark for the Patriots to overcome their road woes. The Patriots are 1-7 in their past eight road games (not including the neutral-site London win over the Buccaneers in 2009) and part of their struggles have been their inability to fight through adversity.

Sure, quarterback Tom Brady pointed out last week that the 2010 Patriots are a different team than the 2009 Patriots, but some of the '09 problems resurfaced in this season's Week 2 loss to the Jets. It might be a new year, but that showing looked like a familiar second-half meltdown on the road.

So the questions linger as to whether the team is headed down the same painful path as last December, when Brady -- after a 22-21 loss to the Dolphins here in South Florida -- correctly diagnosed what was ailing the 2009 club in road games.

"When things don't go your way, you have to fight back," Brady said that day. "That's a challenge for all of us. At times I think we do. Other times, I don't think we fight very hard."

If the Patriots are to win Monday night, they'll have to show more fight than they did last year in Miami, and Brady's decision-making and accuracy will have to be better than in the second half of that game. His end zone interception in the fourth quarter was a crucial play in that contest.

As for how much the no-one-believes-in-us approach will help, perhaps it ties in to what ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said was the key to success for past Patriots teams on the road. Prior to taking the field, Bruschi said players looked around the locker room and realized that all they had was each other, and that's all they needed.

That's the type of mindset and trust that teams must have to record a big win on the road.

Perhaps that's what Belichick was trying to create by drawing attention to the "expert" picks, planting the seed for something he hopes will grow larger by the time players take the field Monday night.

Belichick is usually one of the first to point out that pregame hype and juicy storylines have little to do with the final outcome; instead, it comes down to players' performance once the football is kicked in the air.

But if some "expert" predictions add a little fuel to the fire, why not see if it sparks something special?

Harrison would be proud.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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