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Controversy follows Pats as playoffs begin


01/18/18



 On the eve of your New England Patriots’ first playoff game, controversy swirls again. That makes the rest of the NFL giddy, because having learned nothing from Deflate-gate, Spy-gate, the Aaron Hernandez saga, Tom Brady missing 99 percent of 2008 and Gronk going down last year, they think the distraction will throw them off their game. That is particularly so in New York, where the dumber than usual Gotham media is seeing images of Bill Belichick dancing in their hypocrisy-riddled heads as head coach of the NYGs. 

The problem is, if you look back, you see them beating Seattle as D-gate raged right up the Super Bowl kickoff. You see them 18 months later winning the first three games of Brady’s suspension, putting it back in the faces of those dying for an opening week prime time beatdown by trendy Super Bowl pick Arizona. One of them did make it to there, but it wasn’t Zona. 
Then after the Pats went down 28-3 to Atlanta, the haters thought they had them, but voila, they didn’t give up and Brady amped up the magic to win in OT to their despair again. 
English translation? While they may lose in the coming weeks, it won’t be because of the who-ha ignited by Seth Wickersham’s account on ESPN.com of dysfunction within the Patriots’ holy trinity. History shows no one, anywhere, is better at blocking out the noise than the Patriots.
So, the question is not how much of it is true. It’s how much of what was reported is meaningful enough to derail the mission. 
The only time internal strife has done that under Coach B was free agent import Adalius Thomas and others not drinking the Kool-Aid in 2009. That led to “just” going 10-6 before a 33-14 Round I playoff exit. 
As for the long-term impact, you have to determine how much of the alleged dysfunction between Belichick, Brady and Bob Kraft is real and how much affects the working relationship going forward. 
And, even if 100 percent true, it’s really hard to gauge the level of animosity, anger or whatever any of them is feeling just by someone piecing together a story from third-party conversations. There’s being pissed, and then there’s being Howard Beale pissed, to just open the window and say I’m mad as hell and heading to NJ to take over a crappy team at age 65.  
That’s not to cast aspersions on Wickersham’s work. After hearing him on the radio, my sense is he was earnestly trying to do a good journalistic job, unlike the author of the week’s other story that had tongues wagging 450 miles to the south. That was done for the money, with a journalistic compass that goes far enough to not get sued. Not that I don’t believe what’s in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury account of the Trump White House. I’m just talking motivation, which impacts my ability to give any author benefit of the doubt.  
The only thing that really matters is what impact this story will have going forward. 
Here’s what my intuitive ability, common sense and gut feeling tell me. I believe Alex Guerrero’s presence (and banishment) caused real friction between Brady and Belichick. His less than pristine rep says to me, beware. Plus, as most may know, I won’t buy the avocado ice cream nonsense until I see 10 guys make it to 45. Brady is an aberration who’s lucky enough to have a coach good enough to employ a system that doesn’t get him blasted as often as many others have been. 
Second, I believe Brady pushed to trade Jimmy G. Any competitive player would have those feelings in the same situation. Especially one with the end in sight and who doesn’t want to be the one traded when the either-him-or-me decision comes down. It happened with Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco, which caused major friction between Joel Cool and Bill Walsh. Ditto in Green Bay for Brett Favre with Aaron Rodgers, his coach and GM. Why not here? 
I don’t believe Bob Kraft didn’t force Coach B to trade Jimmy G. As I said when it happened, you’d have to be really dumb to leave yourself without a backup QB who knew the system, which was the case after already trading Jacoby Brissett. 
And we all know, Bill’s not dumb. Especially since they’d already been through the drill of a backup heading to free agent with Cassell. Franchise him, then trade him after an auction between QB-needy clubs — Jacksonville, SF, Washington, Cleveland and the G-Men. 
Finally, if someone goes, it will be Coach B. Either by walking out or, if it really is bad, Kraft firing him to keep heir apparent Josh McDaniels in Foxboro. But I’d be very surprised if that happened because my gut says the goal he’d really want is Don Shula’s record for most wins. That would take to 71 or 72 on a good team with a stable QB situation. Add three years for a rebuild and he’s 75, which is unlikely. 
The bottom line: After beating the Titans, then Jacksonville, after upsetting Pittsburgh and an aerial battle in the SB with Matt Ryan in a scary rematch with Atlanta, I expect they’ll all work it out to be back next year. 
Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com. 





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