Column: Patriots taking out Deflategate wrath on rest of NFL
The New England Patriots are still ticked off.
They're taking it out on the rest of the NFL.
Instead of being the scandal that brought down Belichick, Brady & Co., Deflategate turned out to be the fuel that might just propel the Patriots to their greatest season yet.
New England (7-0) has been utterly dominant through the first half of the season, doling out its latest shellacking on the Miami Dolphins, who never had a chance in a 36-7 rout Thursday night.
Like all great champions, from Ali to Bird to Jordan, the Patriots feed off every perceived slight - or, in this case, a major scandal in which they were charged with intentionally deflating footballs used in last season's AFC championship game.
The NFL attempted to drop the hammer on the Patriots, doling out a four-game suspension to quarterback Tom Brady. He went to court and beat the rap. Now, at age 38, he's putting together a remarkable season (69 percent completions, 20 touchdowns, just one interception, on pace to throw for more than 5,500 yards, which would be an NFL record) and boasting that he wouldn't mind playing for another decade.
Seriously, Tom, quit rubbing it in.
Aren't four Super Bowl rings and being married to Gisele Bundchen enough for you?
Nothing's ever enough for the Patriots, especially when they've got a convenient target for channeling their anger. Coach Bill Belichick has never been shy about immersing his team in an us-against-the-world mindset, going all the way back to Spygate and carried along by a persistent belief that he's always looking for ways to skirt the rules.
After the brouhaha over deflated footballs, Belichick channeled his disdain for Roger Goodell onto the other 31 teams, who have the misfortune of standing in as the commissioner's proxies each week.
The coach almost sounded satisfied after the beat-down of the Jets, though it won't last long. You don't build perhaps the greatest dynasty in NFL history, one that hasn't had a losing season since 2000, by stopping to smell the roses.
''I thought there were a lot of good things out there,'' Belichick said coldly. ''Still a lot of things we need to work on.''
Somewhere under that hoodie, he's probably still mad about that Super Bowl loss almost eight years ago, when the Patriots won their first 18 games only to be beaten in the one that really mattered when David Tyree somehow caught a ball off the side of his helmet.
Can this team do what that team couldn't? Could this team go 19-0?
The biggest potential stumbling block is a Nov. 29 trip to Denver to face the unbeaten Broncos (6-0). Two road trips to New York, one to face the Giants on Nov. 15, the other against the AFC East rival Jets on Dec. 27, could possibly trip the Patriots up, too.
Then again, it's hard to see anyone stopping Brady and all those weapons he has around him, from Rob Gronkowski, the best tight end on the planet, to receiver Julian Edelman and running backs LeGarrett Blount and Dion Lewis. The defense gets overlooked, but it's playing well enough to carry the Patriots to another Super Bowl championship.
Edelman shrugged off any pressure to stay unbeaten.
''It's more about just going out there and hammering the nail away, all the way in,'' he said. ''That's what coach always says. Just hammer away, because if you don't, you're going to be stubbing your toe on the floor with the nail coming out.''
The Dolphins weren't the first team to get hammered by the Patriots.
New England's average margin of victory is more than 16.5 points per game, and it's really not even that close. Pittsburgh scored a meaningless touchdown with 2 seconds remaining to lose 28-21 in Week 1. Buffalo trailed 37-13 entering the fourth quarter in Week 2, before rallying to a more respectable 40-32 setback.
Only two games have given the Patriots a serious challenge. They trailed the Jets 20-16 in the fourth quarter, but Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes to pull out a 30-23 victory. Indianapolis led New England at halftime and may have pulled off the upset if not for one of the worst plays in NFL history, a fake punt that never had a chance, allowing the Patriots to escape with a 34-27 triumph.
That said, New England hasn't been quite as dominant as that 2007 team, which won by an average of 19.7 points during its perfect regular season.
Of course, that just gives Belichick something else to hold over his current group.
He's already got plenty.
Remember, the NFL is appealing the ruling that threw out Brady's suspension. While it seems unlikely to succeed given the scathing criticism of the league's shoddy investigation by the trial judge, it's still hanging out there, still spurring on the Patriots.
The other 31 teams might want to advise the commish to quietly let it go.
No need to make these guys even madder.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963