The rule-bending, the "-gates," envy and much more
The New England Patriots will host the Houston Texans on Thursday night, with the Texans favored to win by 1.5 points. This marks only the fifth game since the start of the 2002 season that the Pats are home underdogs.
Of course, they’re not really underdogs and haven’t been since winning the first Super Bowl of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era on Feb. 3, 2002 when the St. Louis Rams were favored by 14.
Jimmy Garappolo’s injury may force the Patriots to start rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, but they’re both just warming the football until Tom Terrific returns from his Deflategate suspension in Week 5. Colts fans and AFC East rivals probably don’t need a reminder, but they can prod that bothersome tooth by continuing on with the rest of us for the main reasons why people hate the Patriots.
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
The rule bending (Part I)
The saying goes, “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Well, the Patriots have embraced a version of that maxim in that they constantly test the bounds of the NFL rulebook in pursuit of an edge.
One of the earlier examples involved the Patriots’ effective method for stifling the Indianapolis Colts’ dominant vertical passing game in the 2004 AFC Championship game by “rerouting” receivers, by making lots of contact at every opportunity, even beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage. The strategy worked as Ty Law and Rodney Harrison in particular roughed up Marvin Harrison in a 24-14 Patriots win.
''We didn't want to give their receivers too much freedom,'' said Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. ''We got our hands on them and got their jerseys dirty.'' The league responded in the offseason by announcing that it would more strictly enforce the existing rules on pass interference and illegal contact beyond five yards rules.
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The rule bending (Part II)
Most teams use “pick” plays to help their receivers get free; only when the offensive players intentionally initiate contact beyond one yard is it illegal. But the Patriots certainly test officials’ judgment of intent by frequently running routes to try and trip up defenders.
Beyond that, the Patriots once again triggered a NFL rule change with their ineligible receiver gimmick that they used most notably in a comeback win against the Baltimore Ravens in January 2015. (Go here for more on the tactic). Brady said the Ravens needed to “study the rule book and figure it out.”
Ultimately the league adopted a new rule that bans players with an eligible receiver’s jersey number to report as an ineligible player and then line up outside the tackle box. Only the Patriots.
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The rule breaking
Spygate, Deflategate -- pick the most egregious -gate. The Patriots always seem to be cooking up something foul and many critics believe the league has never adequately punished them for their violations. Deflategate cost the Patriots their 2016 first-round draft pick and $1 million, plus however much Brady paid in legal fees fighting the suspension. He also ultimately lost his right to play in the first four games of this season and may not communicate with the team either. He's getting along OK.
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The continued specter of cheating
The bending and breaking has created an air around the team that’s caused some combination of valid suspicion and paranoia in their opponents. In the week leading up to a 2005 Colts-Patriots Divisional Round matchup at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots left their re-sodded turf unprotected during rain showers. When asked about it, Belichick said: "My job is not to pull weeds. I have a lot of other things to do. Or rake the field and all of that. I’m sure that will all be taken care of." Do your job, indeed.
Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Steelers complained about headset malfunctions in their opener in New England in 2015. And also in 2015, a report spread from WFAN’s Boomer Esiason that the Jets asked the league to sweep the visitors’ locker room in New England for bugs (listening devices). The Jets denied that they made such a request but still... it’s a wonder.
The Tuck Rule
If you’re an NFL newcomer, the play that spawned the name “Tuck Rule” occurred during the Raiders-Patriots 2002 Divisional Round when, late in a snowy contest with the Patriots trailing by three, Brady began to attempt a pass but then pulled the ball back toward his body when Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson knocked the ball loose for a Raiders recovery. Officials ruled it a fumble on the field but after review, reversed the call, saying Brady was attempting to “tuck” the ball into his body according to referee Walt Coleman's interpretation, meaning that Brady had thrown an incomplete pass and did not fumble.
And so the Patriots’ drive continued with under two minutes to play. Adam Vinatieri booted a 45-yard field goal amid heavy snowfall to send the game to overtime, then hit a 23-yard game winner in the extra period. The Patriots went on to twin Super Bowl XXXVI -- the first for Brady and Belichick.
Said future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis in 2015 about the “tuck rule”: "I'm just being honest -- the only reason we know who Tom Brady is, because of a tuck rule," Lewis said. "There's no such thing as a tuck rule! If the ball is in your hand, and I knock it out your hand, whether it's going backwards, forwards, lateral, sideways, however it's coming out, that's a freaking fumble."
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Media worship and favoritism
Does a Patriots bias exist? Maybe, probably. The Patriots certainly play in more prime-time games than the Tennessee Titans. The team's “pursuit of perfection” in their undefeated regular season in 2007 became a borderline obsession. And speaking from my gear in the machine, a story about the Patriots will typically garner more pageviews than stories about other teams. More people care more about the Patriots. Is that because they see more about New England? That one is above my paygrade.
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
Namely Belichick’s directive “Do Your Job." That and “The Patriot Way.” The latter is less catchy than Al Davis’ “Just win, baby” but when you’re on top you can call it whatever the heck you want.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY SportsWinslow Townson
Are the fans any more braggadocious, obnoxious or entitled than fans of another team that’s enjoyed a reign of dominance with multiple championships, such as the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Lakers? I’ve heard some fans make the allegation quite passionately but I’m not sure it’s true. Your mileage may vary.
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
Their sheer and utter dominance
Since 2001, the Patriots have won the AFC East every season but two. That’s 13 division titles, interrupted by the New York Jets in 2002. That was after the Patriots had won the Super Bowl and they went 9-7, so not exactly a lean year up in New England. The only other non-Patriots division winner on this side of 2000 was the Miami Dolphins in 2008 -- the year that Tom Brady tore his ACL in the season opener, forcing Matt Cassel to take over and lead the Pats to an 11-5 campaign in one of those oddball seasons when the AFC wrecked the NFC and 11 wins didn’t qualify them for a Wild Card. <br The only other AFC team not yet mentioned, the poor Buffalo Bills, haven’t see their team in the playoffs since about a week after the Y2K craze (Jan. 8, 2000) when they suffered the wrong end of the “Music City Miracle.” Simply put, the Patriots have owned the division and a lot of the hate is rooted in jealousy.
Even the coach’s arrival in New England was cloaked in controversy. "I resign as HC of the NYJ” he wrote on a sheet of loose leaf paper before announcing at his presumed welcome presser that he was resigning his post after one day on the job. Of course he ended up in New England but the Jets cried foul over Belichick’s contract and ultimately the hire cost the Patriots their first round draft pick in 2000 (to the Jets). <br Since taking the reins in 2000, Belichick has led the team to winning seasons in all but his first year, he's made six Super Bowl trips, lifted four Lombardi trophies and amassed an overall 188-69 record for an incredible .730 winning percentage. His game plans are impeccable and innovative. He exploits weaknesses and creates mismatches. He’s a master of situational football. He is possibly, if not probably, the greatest NFL head coach of all time. And winning breeds contempt. So does a gruff demeanor.
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Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
He came from the bottom of the draft (pick 199) but that’s just a footnote now to one of the greatest careers in NFL history, and more broadly, quite a persona in the American culture. A lot of fans of opposing teams dislike him because he’s been known to complain to officials about contact and get penalties called in his favor. There’s also his sustained success and lifestyle. <br Everyone is fighting his or her own battle but from the outside looking in, Tom Brady is living one of the greatest lives in this country. He’s good looking, despite some curious hairdos over the years. He's married to an actual supermodel. He has three healthy children and a dog. He’s a multimillionaire. He has hoisted four Lombardi trophies and three Super Bowl MVP trophies. He’s hosted “Saturday Night Live” and he was pretty funny. Famous people want to meet him. He enjoyed the ultimate experience on one of the greatest ever days in sports on May 2, 2015 when the Kentucky Derby and Mayweather-Pacquaio bout occurred on the same day (among other sporting events). I can’t summate the life and success of Brady better than Phil Gentile (@iHateJJReddick) did on Twitter that day: “Tom Brady was at the Kentucky Derby. Now he’s in Vegas for the fight. I had a lunchable for dinner.”