FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It was, as always, business as usual with the New England Patriots on Wednesday.
Their job, we were repeatedly told, is to prepare for the Buffalo Bills, their opponent on Sunday.
It isn’t to worry about the replacement referees, it isn’t to whine about the NFL’s contract squabble with the regular referees, it isn’t to wonder about whether their head coach, Bill Belichick, would be fined by the NFL for grabbing one of those replacement refs following the Patriots last-play 31-30 loss to Baltimore.
“You can’t think about it,” linebacker/defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “If you start thinking about other things around you, it’s going to start affecting your play. So the best thing that everyone can do is focus in on playing football and, whatever happens, you deal with it and just try to win a football game.”
What else would you expect him, or any other Patriot, to say?
This is what the Patriots have always done better than any other team in any professional sport.
No matter what happens — SpyGate, holdouts, off-field issues, tough losses — they remain singularly focused on the next task.
So while the rest of the football world may be tweeting like crazy about the horrific calls and missed calls by the replacement refs, while the NFL is being skewered on every talk show for letting the situation get out of hand, the Patriots simply move on.
“Well you have to in the NFL because the clock is ticking on the next week’s game,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “You can’t sit around for four days and mourn a loss and say, ‘God, this is the end of our year.’ I mean, we’re 1-2, we’re not in a good position right now, we’re in the exact position we deserve to be in, and we’ve got to do something about it.”
Brady, Ninkovich, receiver Deion Branch and safety Steve Gregory all followed the Patriot line.
“There’s always going to be calls made,” Ninkovich said. “Playing football, there’s always going to be (penalty) flags thrown, no matter who is the ref.”
Gregory, however, admitted that things with the replacement refs are, well, different.
“I think that’s obvious; there’s been a lot of …,” he said, holding his hands out as if to say, “What’s that call? What just happened?”
“We need to find a way to get the guys back in there,” he said. “The real refs.”
But, he quickly dropped back to PatriotSpeak, adding, “Those are things that are out of our control as players. We need to just go out and play football and, whoever’s in there, find a way to win a football game.”
That mindset stems from one person: Belichick, whose non-answers to non-game related questions could fill volumes of notepads.
He was asked Wednesday to comment on a possible settlement between the NFL and the referees. His answer: “Just trying to concentrate on trying to get our team ready to play Buffalo, that’s all I’m doing.”
Any doubt that was the message he sent to his players this week? Do you think he personally told third-year linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was highly critical of the referees on Twitter after Sunday’s loss, to focus his attention on what’s important?
“He sets the standard in the meeting rooms,” Branch said.
Belichick would, of course, be fined: $50,000 for what the league termed “impermissible physical contact with an official.”
Belichick issued a statement later, apologizing for his actions. And then he was back at work, preparing for the Bills and a chance to improve to 2-2.
For the Patriots, nothing else matters.