We should know better than to make the Pats mad
In a week filled with Spygate and heavy fines and loss of draft pick(s), the Patriots and Bill Belichick received some measure of redemption in whipping the Chargers.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are some undeniable truths in life, critical mandates that, if ignored, precipitate dire consequences.
Among them, compliments of late songwriter Jim Croce: You don't step on Superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind. You don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger.
And, oh yeah, paraphrasing here (many apologies, Jim), you simply don't mess around with Bill Belichick.
For those unaware of that last tenet, Belichick and his New England Patriots offered a reminder Sunday night in dismantling the mighty San Diego Chargers, 38-14, that they don't require any extra impetus in their collective pursuit of perfection. They're already talented and motivated enough without the need of kerosene being poured on their emotions and their resolve.
Yes, the penalties of Thursday, with Belichick and the New England franchise fined a total of $750,000, and possibly stripped of a first-round draft pick, by commissioner Roger Goodell because of their illegal video espionage, might have been justified. But what transpired during the long week of organizational duress also created an us-against-the-world rallying point.
And the Chargers, unfortunately for them, were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"I haven't been here the longest, but I've been around long enough [and] I know this much: You don't wave a red flag in front of this team," said Rosevelt Colvin, who finished with five tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception and a pass defensed. "This is a very proud bunch of men in here. I think all this week forced us to do was focus even harder. People outside this locker room kept talking about distractions. Did you see a distracted team out there tonight?"
Not hardly. Had the Patriots played with much more focus or emotion -- or, hey, been allowed to steal the San Diego defensive signals -- there is no telling how bad a beat-down New England would have administered. It was bad enough as it was, with the Pats piling it on a San Diego club reputed to possess the NFL's best and deepest roster, but one that was overmatched from the outset Sunday night, and which has struggled in both outings so far this season.
At the start of the second half, with the Patriots leading 24-0, a television camera captured a fan holding up a homemade placard that read: "New England Patriots -- Dominating the NFL, Fair and Square."
There was nothing fair, however, about what was supposed to have been a competitive and passionate game, a contest stoked primarily by New England's upset victory at San Diego in the divisional round of the playoffs last season, and by the hardly veiled suggestions from the Chargers' camp that the Pats might have been up to something illegal in that contest. Indeed, star tailback LaDainian Tomlinson said he felt the Pats lived by the adage that if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying.
Well, there were a lot of San Diego players on the field Sunday night cheating owner Alex Spanos out of money because they didn't look as though they were trying to earn their paychecks.
"I don't know if [the Pats] played with a chip on their shoulders," said San Diego defensive end Luis Castillo. "But I know we got beat."
To a pulp.
The New England offense, which rang up 407 total yards, scored on three of its first four possessions, including an impressive 69-yard march to open the game, a series finished off by a 7-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to tight end Benjamin Watson. That was an auguring of what was to come as Brady, pressured at times but not consistently, threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns, including two to wide receiver Randy Moss.
The manhandling wasn't limited to the Patriots' offense. The defense limited the allegedly high-octane Chargers to 14 first downs and a measly 201 yards. Tomlinson carried 18 times for 43 yards, with seven of his attempts producing just a yard or less.
"We just never gave him any room to operate," said Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
Not surprisingly, the defensive effort was led by the linebacker corps, always a strength of Belichick-coached teams. In addition to Colvin's performance, Adalius Thomas, one of the club's high-profile offseason acquisitions, had three tackles and a pass defensed, also returning an interception 65 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.
And when the Chargers hoped to mount a late rally after recovering a fumbled kickoff by Ellis Hobbs early in the fourth quarter, linebacker Mike Vrabel sacked quarterback Philip Rivers on first down and Colvin dumped Rivers again on the next snap. End of rally and certainly the end of any hopes the Chargers had for salvaging some shred of dignity from their ignominious performance.
Belichick, who was greeted by a standing ovation when he entered the field for pregame warm-ups, clearly was more excited than he would acknowledge about his team's play.
"It wasn't perfect, but it was good," said Belichick, who deftly dodged any questions about the strident sanctions imposed by Goodell.
It was -- Belichick probably would concede privately -- more than good.
And although Belichick would never admit it, the manner in which the Patriots responded had to be gratifying for the Hall of Fame coach, who put himself in a ticklish situation, and under the microscope. To a man, the New England veterans steadfastly toed the party line, contending that Belichick never made the NFL investigation and expensive resolution to the Spygate incident an issue in the locker room.
But it was obvious Belichick's team had his back.
As time ran out, the Patriots players surrounded Belichick, glad-handing him and slapping him on the back. The coach then exited to another standing ovation, waving to the crowd that remained to hail its conquering hero.
"All I have to know is, he's my coach, and I follow his lead," emotional linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "He didn't have to say anything in here this week. We all knew what we had to do. He's a big part of our family, and we're like his extended family. And we did what good families do when one of their own is affected."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.