Well, that was ugly.
Bill Belichick, a rookie quarterback who'd never started an NFL game in his life and a Patriots team that was at one point a home underdog responded in typical Patriots Way fashion Thursday night: With a 27-0 clinical humiliation of a Houston Texans team that before entering Gillette Stadium had seemed like a sexy Super Bowl pick.
The list of victims? Long, familiar and with some names you're going to recognize.
What they had in common? They went up against Bill Belichick, the greatest NFL head coach the game has seen.
Let's run through it:
Bill O'Brien, the stand-in for all former Belichick assistants who have the audacity to face him on a football field: What a brutal coaching effort that O'Brien, a guy I still believe in, put up. His 2-0 team just got shut out in a big, prove-they-belong game, against a former mentor who makes a sport of cutting his former protégés down to size. Houston coughed up three turnovers, had a rash of amateur-hour penalties and looked overmatched from almost the first moment. The Texans reminded us that the Hoodie's black magic includes some weird spell over former protégés and employees.
In fact, this was supposed to be the "Patriots South" showing that only one word there -- south, as in going that direction -- applied to the moniker. O'Brien's staff was a who's who of who used to be in New England: Mike Vrabel, Romeo Crennel, and offensive coordinator George Godsey. Don't forget beloved defensive tackle Vince Wilfork or special teams coordinator Larry Izzo, who picked up three Super Bowl rings during his eight seasons as a Patriot. Vrabel in particular has a bright coaching future, but Belichick owned each and every one of these guys on Thursday.
Brock Osweiler: Oh, Brock. The primary victim of a Patriots defense that was incredible, he was a pedestrian 24-of-41 for 196 yards passing. That's 4.8 passing yards per attempt, enough -- literally -- to make last season's NFL-worst Rams passing attack look like a juggernaut by comparison. He also added a turnover for good measure. He's very lucky it wasn't two. He's been mediocre this season. But the Patriots, for the first time, made him look at least for one night like a very costly mistake by Houston's front office.
J.J. Watt: Did J.J. Watt play, you ask? Good question. He did -- he had two tackles -- but he was more the invisible man than the league's best defensive player. Big-time stars show up in big-time games. Especially against, you know, nobody quarterbacks on a short week who weren't supposed to touch a football this season.
A good chunk of the rest of us including, very likely, yourself: Vegas, early in the week, liked Houston on the road against what was supposed to be a hapless Patriots offense with no Brady or Garoppolo and almost no Gronk, who had a single target in his return. And so did most of the rest of us. Yes, there was that voice in the back of our minds, quiet but persistent. Reminding us Tom Brady might be suspended by the NFL but that Bill Belichick will still be out there, reminding us that every quarterback who's ever stepped in for Brady has been turned temporarily into some kind of cold-blooded winner, reminding us that betting against that team at home is a fool's errand. Yet so many of us -- include me here -- countered to ourselves: But it's Jacoby Brissett.
Yeah, well Jacoby Brissett is now 1-0 in the National Football League. He wasn't Tom Brady. No one is. But he was enough to hand Tom Brady at least a 3-1 record or, more certainly because it is Buffalo up next week against the Brady-less Pats, a 4-0 record when Brady returns in Week 5.
Brissett was 11-for-19 for a paltry 103 passing yards. But he also protected he ball and rushed for 48 yards, including scampering for a 27-yard rushing touchdown.
This game was about the Patriots head coach, plain and simple. Quarterbacks making their first ever NFL start are now 6-0 under Belichick, and Brissett's first act the moment he scored his first professional touchdown was to deliver the ball to the man who made it possible in the first place.
The fact is that Bill Belichick is a football savant and a force of nature all at once. He took a QB who made $26,471 for Thursday night's game and used him as another improbable weapon to embarrass an opposing QB who made $235,294 for that same game -- and to embarrass the rest of us who got in the Hoodie's way or doubted him in the first place.
It's just three weeks into a long NFL season, but we already know what we should have known all along: Don't bet against Bill Belichick, and never, under any circumstances, rely on one of his former assistants when he faces his old boss.