INDIANAPOLIS — We just found out what happened to the air someone took out of Tom Brady’s footballs in the playoffs last January.
Bill Belichick finally exhaled it.
Moments after the Patriots subdued the Colts 34-27, the New England coach let out a soft “phew” when asked whether he was satisfied with his team’s balance between passes (37 attempts) and running plays (25). He looked relieved, rather than a man still bent on revenge.
“We don’t have a run-pass balance,” Belichick said flatly. “We just try to score.”
Considering the ruckus “Deflategate” kicked up, and the Colts’ role as instigators in the months-long saga, the surprise is that the Patriots didn’t — or couldn’t — run up the score. For all the talk about getting even, they improved to 5-0 by treating the Colts no differently than any other opponent.
Brady kept poking Indianapolis’ porous pass defense with short throws to Julian Edelman in the opening half, then gradually expanded his reach by connecting with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola on mid-range and longer throws in the second.
“It’s the little things,” Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “You can’t give them anything, because they will take everything, everything you give them. A great team will capitalize on any little mistake.”
The Colts’ biggest mistake was self-inflicted, a bizarre fake-punt formation on fourth-and-3 from their own 37 while trailing 27-20 late in the third quarter. Indianapolis was whistled for an illegal formation — “I have to let the coach talk to you on that one, but we practiced it,” was all safety Mike Adams would say about the play — but New England declined the penalty and four plays later, Brady hit LeGarrette Blount with an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Brady finished a respectable 23 of 37 for 312 yards, with three touchdowns and his first interception of the season, but was restrained afterward. Sporting a natty checked suit and few days’ growth of beard, he twice denied saving a football and possibly two from the game as souvenirs — despite tucking one into his helmet at the end of the game.
“I didn’t keep them,” Brady replied.
“Are they going to somebody else?” came the follow-up.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The lack of emotion across the Patriots’ locker room was in keeping with Belichick’s insistence on a business-like demeanor at all times, but it might say even more about their confidence level. This season’s team looks even better in the early going than last season’s Super Bowl champions and even more determined not to waste much energy trading barbs or picking fights off the field.
When Edelman scored New England’s opening touchdown, he thrust out his chest and appeared to scream. But asked whether there was “a little extra emotion” in the celebration, he quickly corrected the questioner, “I’m always emotional.”
And so it went the rest of the night. Opponents and haters may pick at the scab of “Deflategate,” but good luck getting anyone in a Patriots uniform to flinch at the mention, let alone address it.
Unfortunately, Blount didn’t dress as fast as his more experienced teammates and got cornered in a nearly empty visitors locker room. But he had no problem channeling his inner Belichick every time the question was about revenge.
“We treated it just like another game. Everybody prepared for it as we would for any opponent. Everybody was ready to play this game,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it is.”
The second time it was asked, Blount was more, well, blunt.
“Anything in the past,” he replied, “was the last thing on our mind.”
The rest of the NFL moved on after “Spygate,” or did, anyway, until “Deflategate” arrived, and this, too, shall pass if the Patriots continue unraveling defenses around the league like just so many cheap sweaters. Too many smart coaches already know what Chuck Pagano did coming into this game — you can either let the Patriots pick you apart slowly; or else big risks and as the Colts did, shoot yourself in the foot.
“We didn’t want to leave any bullets in the gun,” Pagano said.
A few minutes later, Pagano was asked whether he wished “Deflategate” had never happened.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he replied.
“The whole inflated football situation,” the questioner said.
“It had nothing to do with the football game or anything else,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”