FOXBORO -- Hey NFL, get over it.
The Patriots have been the best team in pro football for over a decade now, and still there are mistakable signs of envy and resentment.
The rest of the league -- especially those who have never been on the inside at Gillette Stadium -- are tired of the Patriots always finding a way to outsmart and dupe the competition.
They’re sick of hearing about the "Patriot Way" that was all the rage on Wednesday as the national media descended on Foxboro to preview the Patriots and Ravens in Sunday’s AFC championship.
So, I asked several Patriots on Thursday if they sensed jealousy and envy.
“I’d imagine that could be a possibility,” Matthew Slater told me. “I’ve been fortunate to spend my whole career here so I don’t know what it’s like looking from the outside in. As a fan of sports, I guess sometimes the team that has a lot of success, you kind of want to see the underdog win, so to speak.
“So that could be a possibility. I don’t get the feel when we’re playing against teams -- teams don’t fear us, teams don’t play scared against us, they want to beat us. I don’t know if there’s any jealousy or anything like that going on.”
Here was Rob Ninkovich’s take:
“I think you look back as long as they’ve been winning, it’s kind of been similar in how they present themselves,” Ninkovich said. “It’s obviously worked out and just I think our record in the past 10 years kind of speaks for itself as far as how we’ve won and been successful. So again, there’s always going to be people out there wanting us to not continue to win, but that’s just the way it is.”
Here’s the deal. The Patriots can live with the critics hating on their success. The critics (mostly envious players) can’t deal with New England’s NFL-best .674 winning percentage in the last 18 seasons.
They can’t accept the fact that Robert Kraft has built the most successful franchise in the league since buying the team in 1994.
They can’t deal with Bill Belichick’s planning, preparation and game management. They can't stop Tom Brady’s execution and the no-huddle.
The NFL is supposed to be the league of parity. The Patriots have defied all odds.
It’s just about this time of year when the critics start coming out of the woodwork -- like Dan Fouts and Steve Beuerlein this week -- claiming the Patriots get breaks from officials.
And then there is the controversy that keeps on giving and will never die: spygate.
Deep down, the Patriots know this will always be with them, their scarlet letter. But they paid the fine. They've taken away the cameras. And yet, they still win. They win because they find every possible advantage and outwork their opponent. They innovate. They always make the first move and force the rest of the league to adjust. They stay ahead of the curve.
Spygate was brought up again during the Patriots’ win over the Texans in a jealous tweet from Ravens backup linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who didn’t record a single tackle or sack last week.
“You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl. 18-1,” he tweeted. Ayanbadejo apologized a day later after the Ravens realized the motivational impact it could have in a week.
There was a classic and very telling moment Thursday at Gillette Stadium when Logan Mankins was asked about Spygate by Yahoo! Sports national football writer Jason Cole.
Cole: "When other players around the league remind you of Spygate, does that tick you off?"
“Nah, that was a long time ago,” Mankins replied, referring to the 2007 season.
But Cole pressed the issue, asking, “It does not get under your skin at all?”
Mankins smiled like a grizzly bear about to snack on its prey.
“No, but you are,” Mankins said, inducing laughter in the visitors' locker room, where the press conference was being staged.
There’s nothing funny to NFL opponents about the Patriots and their 10-year run -- five Super Bowls, three Vince Lombardi trophies and an annual ticket to the NFL postseason.
Most coaches, players and general managers might say they respect the Patriots for the nearly unprecedented level of success they’ve enjoyed for the last decade.
But every once in a while you get what you’ve seen this week from the Ravens. Comments from Ayanbadejo and, to a lesser degree, wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Ayanbadejo also was the genius who went to Twitter to suggest the Patriots are bending and breaking the rules with their no-huddle offense.
"New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can't really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight.”
"Are you watching the game pats vs texans? If so you see the hurry snap offense catch em b4 they set up. It's a gimmick."
"Their offense is good enough to be successful with out that,” he added as he couldn’t help himself. “In a sport that is predicated on mano y mano… lets hurry up n snap it = b*tcha**ness.”
Ayanbadejo in a one-hour span on Twitter managed to sum up all of the hate that is out there in the NFL for the Patriots.
You might as well be spitting on the “Flying Elvis” logo at midfield during warmups like J.J. Watt did this past Sunday. But at least Watt has the credibility of being a star player in the NFL who is trying to mark his turf, and not a part-time backup linebacker who is trying to shoot bows and arrows into the concrete façade around the Patriots offices.
All Boldin did was boldly predict “We’ll make [this year's AFC championship] different. … We’re gonna win.”
Jason Cole wasn’t alone in bringing up Spygate. New York-based Bob Glauber is a very highly respected football columnist whom Bill Belichick is very familiar with from his days in New York. Belichick answered him this week in his Wednesday presser on a first-name basis.
Glauber, picking up on the Cole line of questioning, tweeted the following on Thursday: “Bill Belichick pre-Spygate w Pats (2000-06): 75-37 regular season, 13-3 playoffs. Since (2007-present): 76-20 regular season, 5-4 playoffs.”
“I don’t think we really worry about it,” Wes Welker said of the Patriot haters. “We just go about our business and do our jobs and just kind of go from there and not really worry about anything outside of that.”
Those who actually have beaten the Patriots in the playoffs have handled it in different ways.
The Giants were considered graceful winners in both Super Bowls, not surprising considering their coach, Tom Coughlin. The Jets pounded their chests, not surprising considering their coach, Rex Ryan, and linebacker Bart Scott, who went on a classic tirade after New York's 28-21 playoff win in January 2011.
How will Brandon Ayanbadejo handle himself if the Ravens get their revenge Sunday?
Here’s some advice: Let Ray Lewis do all the talking.
Two questions for the followers:
What are Patriots fans most concerned about against the Ravens?
@NathanConley Bernard Pollard; he's going to be hunting for someone's knees to take out on Sunday... He's a low down dirty mongrel. #Patriots
@MadameJoy211 Trags, from a #Broncos fan.... watch for the deep ball! *sigh*
@0_LayDX Trags, I'm not worried too much, there are matchup problems on both sides, but Pats give more trouble
Christopher Joseph Findlen: Bolden
What do non-Patriots fans resent the most about the Patriots?
@kylebroooo success ...
@GregCabana Trags, as one who doesn't live in New England, their résumé of success and consistency definitely annoys opposing fans.
@amy13phins Trags, I don't hate them; but many of my fellow Dolphins fans do. They blame Spygate; and they hate Brady for being so perfect! #Jealousy
@cait0621 Trags, they hate you because they want to be you
@brian_h_smith Trags, they're almost always a good team, they're not the nicest guys, and they give smug press conferences
@lgreenwood15 Trags, because we have the best QB!!!! Teamwork!!!!! And we have @StevanRidley @RobGronkowski my favorite players!!!
Julia Werbinski Fitzgerald: They win a lot
Dan Rowinski: Cultural perception.
Patriots 38, Ravens 35, overtime -- The teams combine for 1,000 yards of offense in one of the most entertaining AFC championships of all-time. The Ravens drive the length of the field at the end of regulation and this time their kicker hits the field goal to force overtime. The Ravens get the ball to open OT but Devin McCourty comes up with an interception of Joe Flacco. Stephen Gostkowski drills a 35-yarder right down the middle to send the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVII.
49ers 31, Falcons 28 -- Colin Kaepernick leads San Francisco on an 80-yard drive with 90 seconds remaining, running for 40 yards and passing for the other 40, capping it off with a 20-yard TD run on a scramble to send San Francisco to its first Super Bowl since 1994. Talk about full circle, that's the year Robert Kraft bought the Patriots and built his own dynasty. Kraft, who modeled his franchise after the 49ers, finally gets a chance to have his team become the first to beat the 49ers in a Super Bowl.