Listen: I realize how utterly premature it is to even begin to compare the 2015 New England Patriots to the 2007 New England Patriots, but I don’t care. This is what the Patriots have become, anyway – a repository for our national tendency toward hyperbole. They are everything we find both brilliant and repulsive about professional football, and they are once again scorching a path through a league that has proved itself to be just as ethically questionable as its defining franchise.
In other words, the Patriots are what the Dallas Cowboys used to be, back when the Cowboys were the Cowboys, back when Hollywood made movies about the Cowboys’ excesses.
I admit, I don’t know what the Cowboys are right now, without Dez Bryant and Tony Romo, other than a blatant mess attempting to maintain some sort of stasis with a thirtysomething Cleveland Browns castoff calling the shots. And I don’t know what the Patriots are yet, either, but after New England beat the Weeden out of Dallas 30-6 in Jerry Jones’ Dollhouse of American Excess on Sunday, here is one thing I can say for certain: The 2015 Patriots, at 4-0, with an average victory margin of more than 18 points, appear to be on a similar trajectory to the 2007 Patriots, in that they seem deliberately motivated by the fact that they are almost universally despised in the America that exists south of Hartford.
This is an obvious fact about the Patriots under Bill Belichick – they seem to play better when they are demonized. That’s the reason Tom Brady began screaming like an overzealous motivational speaker after scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter yesterday: Because of all the teams that like to presume that they are being demonized by the outside world, the 2015 Patriots are that rare squad who are not engaging in motivational paranoia. They really are hated. And they are going to use this motivation all season long, which will only make them even more hated.
I mean, this is not exactly a news flash. I am not the first person to note this, and I won’t be the last. And that obvious truth is going to come flooding into play this week, in part because the 2015 Patriots have already begun to shatter the 2007 Patriots’ records, and in part because the Patriots play the Colts next weekend, who happen to be the team that inspired the entire “Deflategate” narrative during last year’s AFC Championship game. And again, I realize these comparisons are completely unfounded this early in the season, but do you remember back in 2007, when the Patriots began obliterating their opponents in the wake of “Spygate?” There is an obvious similarity here, at least in terms of the nature of the way the Patriots approach the task at hand: If, in 2007, the Patriots were the Eff-You team of the decade, brilliantly talented and nearly unstoppable on offense and annoyed as hell at everyone (and honestly, read the first few paragraphs of that Bill Simmons column I just linked to and tell me it couldn’t have been written yesterday), in 2015, these are the “I Don’t Give a Fuck” Patriots.
In how many ways do the Patriots not give a fuck about anything at all? Good Lord, let me count them and get back to you. But to start, there is a Vader-esque head coach whose legacy is virtually airtight regardless of the mounds of dirt that are dug up about his apparent ethical transgressions; there is a tight end who has become America’s premier party bro, who seemingly cannot be covered by any defender in the NFL; and, of course, there is a quarterback who married a supermodel, a quarterback who’s nearing retirement and has nothing to lose, a quarterback who is now openly supporting the American paragon of not-giving-a-fuckitude in his run for president.
I recognize that this could all go wrong at any point. The NFL is a league defined by parity, and for the Patriots to defy that inevitable regression toward mediocrity will prove even more difficult than it did in 2007. The 2015 Patriots will almost certainly not go undefeated, either. But with every blowout victory, they are coming closer to proving a modern American truism, which is that the less you give a fuck about public perception, the more successful you can become.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb