FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This is what it has come to: the stupid handshake.
Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini sloshed through a swampy field and wind-driven sleet to meet at midfield as photographers and security tugged and jostled nearby. The remaining few thousand people inside Gillette Stadium watched closely, including those fans not focused on throwing ice-packed snowballs at Jets players.
The handshake. We watched, they approached. We watched, they approached. It was like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall or Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Just minus the kissing.
|Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick meet, greet, shake and end the Spygate nonsense. (AP)|
OK, almost genuine.
"Great game," Belichick told the rat. "Awesome."
What Belichick really wanted to say: Eat dirt and die.
Spygate II: The Empire Strikes Back is over.
Now we can move on to the real story. How the Patriots are just steps away from being undefeated and how, it seems, they are all but unbeatable.
That's what New England is. By defeating the Jets, the Patriots secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This makes them the heaviest favorites to win it all perhaps in the entire Super Bowl era.
Just get used to it, Patriots haters.
They're going 16-0.
They're going to the Super Bowl.
They're going to be considered by many -- including me -- to be the best team in history and Belichick the best coach ever.
So stop complaining. Stop calling them cheaters and enjoy the ride.
"I am not a cheater and no one on this team is a cheater," said cornerback Ellis Hobbs. "I stand behind that."
They can beat you through the air. They can beat you on the ground. They can win with defense, offense or, as they did against the Jets, with special teams. New England blocked a punt for the first time since 1999, and on defense returned an intercepted pass for a touchdown.
If they don't run by you, they punch you in the mouth. If they don't punch you in the mouth, they out-think you, if they don't out-think you, they make you beat yourself.
New England is the second team in history to go 14-0 and just the third team to win 14 straight games in a single season.
"We don't do a lot of talking about how good we are," said Hobbs. "We just play."
|Tom Brady's done it all season, but vs. the Jets it's Laurence Maroney shouldering the load. (AP)|
So the Patriots turned over the offense to Laurence Maroney, who rushed for 104 yards and one score on 26 carries.
"He carried us," Patriots wide receiver Kelley Washington said of Maroney.
It was a wild, winter day and Patriots fans were rowdy. The game had to be stopped because of idiot goons launching snowballs. They were aimed mainly at Jets players, though several times some of them came close to hitting game officials.
"Lay off the alcohol, man," Hobbs said of the fans, expressing how much he appreciated them while simultaneously chastising them for their behavior. "Lay off the drinking a little bit."
New England's game against the Jets was a perfect microcosm of the adaptability of the Patriots. Their 21st player scored a touchdown, tying an NFL mark for most in a single season. The organization is also 10-0 in snow games and can play in the stuff better than almost any other team.
"Great win and I think (the weather is) probably the way it's going to be next week, the week after, the week after," said Brady. "So it's good to get out there, gain some confidence that we can win a game when the conditions aren't really like they've been. We've had great weather all year. Anytime you beat the Jets it's a great win, and 5-0 in the division and 14-0, so it's a lot to be proud of."
The Patriots are beyond The Handshake and The Rat.
They are moving onto bigger things.
Like, oh, potential immortality.