Bill Belichick generally preaches for his team to ignore the noise. He prefers a team insulated from the outside world – both in terms of criticism and praise.
But last week was clearly one of the more tumultuous stretches in recent memory in New England, and while Belichick himself made it clear last Wednesday that his team was "on to Cincinnati," his players seemingly let a little bit of noise seep in following the Monday night embarrassment in Kansas City.
And for at least one week, hearing the doubters certainly seemed to be a good thing as Tom Brady and Co. used it as motivation to bounce back in a big way in Sunday night's 43-17 blowout of the previously unbeaten Bengals.
"It's hard to be oblivious to things," Brady acknowledged. "We all have TVs or the internet or the questions I get and the emails that I get from people who are concerned. I'm always emailing them back like, 'Nobody died. It's just a loss.' I think we've always done a great job putting losses behind us quickly and trying to move forward. It doesn't always go right. In football season you don't always go undefeated every year. You're trying to build something – we're trying to build something that is going to be tough to compete with. So when we play like we played [Sunday night], it still wasn't perfect and there are still a lot of things we could do better and we're going to work at it. We always do that. We come in and we talk about things we didn't do well and things we did well and things we need to build on. Our coaches do a great job of that. We've got a great group."
Fellow Patriots captain Matthew Slater agreed that not all noise, especially when it's somewhat deserved, can be ignored. Brady has always been the New England emotional leader and that was certainly the case this past week as some questioned his supposedly declining skills and wondered if his tenure as the team's franchise quarterback might be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
"We were all taking a lot of heat this week, and rightfully so, we didn't play well last Monday night," Slater said. "Tom is going to be Tom and he's our leader and as he goes, we go. He played with a lot of emotion [Sunday night] and we were just really happy for him – 50,000 [career passing] yards, but more importantly, the win. You can't say enough good things about our leader, our quarterback, really the heartbeat of this team."
A day after watching his team put forth easily its best performance of the season, Belichick was also clearly proud of the way a week of turmoil led to a unified front that took it to the visiting Bengals.
"When you had the result that we had Monday night as a team, I think everybody rallied around each other," Belichick said in his Monday morning conference call. "I mean, who else is there to rally around? That's all we have: guys that can go out there and play and make a difference. Nobody else is going to make any plays unless we go out and make them ourselves. Of course they stuck together as a team and supported each other. That's what any team should do."
At least any competitive team with fight left in it. Even one that's been taught to ignore the noise. Sometimes the noise can be a spun into a motivational positive, a spark to ignite a response.
"I think it starts with the leadership. We have one of the best coaches that has ever coached this game and he knows how to mentally get us in the right place," Slater said. "He knows how to motivate his football team and then you got guys like Jerod [Mayo], Tom, Vince [Wilfork], [Devin] McCourty, [Dan] Connolly and other leaders on this team that know how to respond to adversity. The reality is that football is a game of ups and downs and it's not going to be smooth sailing all the time. There's going to be bumps in the road and we had a big bump in the road last week, but we were able to refocus ourselves on the task at hand this week and respond."