The Patriots run defense showed up vs. the Bengals after the Chiefs ripped New England for more than 200 yards.
PHOENIX, Ariz. - The Patriots are in the same bunker out here during Super Bowl week. You remember. The one they crawled out of back on the night of Oct. 5 and swept the Bengals so decisively from the ranks of the unbeaten.
"That was a big game for us," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recalled Wednesday, just before he was pulled from the podium and escorted to where ever they keep Hollywood Hall of Fame quarterbacks these days.
"I wouldn't say we were struggling at the time. We were 2-2. Like a lot of things, that was four games into the year. At the end of the first quarter you're not stopping the game and saying we win or lose. You make adjustments. You try to get to the things that work, the things you do well, the things you have confidence in. We started to play a lot better. We started executing and guys started developing roles for themselves."
If there's any proof that the Patriots can survive the mushroom cloud of controversies spewing out of the AFC title game's deflated footballs, it is Oct. 5, 2014 in Foxboro.
Patriots 43, Bengals 17 when Brady and head coach Bill Belichick calmly took on A.J. Green, the pundits, and the world on a Sunday night. And not necessarily in that order.
You remember. The Bengals went into Foxboro 3-0 as everyone's chic-hip-new wave Power Poll pick. The Patriots, on the other hand, were just six days removed from a 41-14 shellacking in Kansas City that had local and national media declaring the end to another New England dynasty as they stacked the Patriots next to shipbuilding, shoe manufacturing, and the Kennedys. The 37-year-old Brady, the pundits moaned, had become obsolete and was on the trading block.
Before DeflateGate, there was ChiefsGate. Complete with three turnovers, three sacks, Brady's 159 passing yards, and Kansas City's 207 rushing yards as the six-state region buckled in panic.
"Yes and no," said running back Shane Vereen, when asked if he was surprised at the public backlash from just four quarters. "You really don't know what to expect from the media what people will say. We never really looked outside our team. We never really looked outside of ourselves. We always stayed close to each other."
With Brady fixing things (it helped that top target Rob Gronkowski was finally healthy and caught 100 yards after just 147 in the first four games), the Pats won seven straight, finished 12-4 again, and haven't lost a game that mattered since Nov. 30.
There were things that changed on the field that game. The shaky offensive line began to get settled when they moved Ryan Wendell into right guard against the Bengals. Brady says Gronkowski hasn't looked back since Cincinnati. On defense they cut cornerback Darrelle Revis loose for the first time all season, ditched zone, and let him go man against Green. Green caught three of his five targets for 64 yards against Revis. He gave up a 35-yarder, but in Green's 81-yard day his lone TD came against Logan Ryan, according to profootballfocus.com, and the playoffs have been punctuated by New England's man-to-man.
But the mindset carried the night more than anything.
"It was a chance for us to go on national television and prove we were a good team," Vereen said. "We were kind of on our back a little bit. I think we felt like we had a strong team, but we had to play to it."
So the team that moved on to Cincinnati in a blizzard of heat should have no problem moving on to Seattle. When Belichick famously refused to answer several questions in his day-after Chiefs autopsy with, "We're moving on to Cincinnati," it eventually became the mantra of a team that appears to have a bullet-proof psyche.
"It was a big game, but for the whole season I wouldn't put one pivotal point," said left tackle Nate Solder. "Because each week we've taken the same mindset where we try to improve and get better and we've kind of put it into a day-to-day process. Honestly, that's always been his mantra. It's always on to the next week. No matter what you did the previous week, you take it and improve on it and that's what we did."
Solder says the tone is set by the man himself.
"If you've got to listen to the good things, you have to listen to the bad things," Solder said. "I just don't pay attention to any of it. It comes from the top. Not only does Bill coach it, he also lives it and it reflects through him back to us."
If their motto has become in the face of headlines and whispers, "It's on to Cincinnati-and-then-fill-in-the-blank," it's not the first time the Bengals have been smack in the middle of a Patriotic run to a Super Bowl title.
It will be recalled in the 2001 opener at Paul Brown Stadium, when the Bengals' Jon Kitna outdueled the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe to give an uncomfortable start to the second year of the Belichick administration, the Pats' starters weren't announced to the crowd.
The late Tom Kinder worked the P.A. that day and his son Tom, the Bengals' current P.A. man, believes it's because the Patriots were late lining up for the introductions.
"The league would fine the home team if the lineups were announced late, so they would just be announced as a group," Tom Kinder says. "Now, it seems pretty accepted around the league that the visiting starters aren't announced."
That's probably because that all-for-one Pats team embraced it after that day in Cincinnati. Their next game was the last time Bledsoe jogged out with the starters after his injury forced them to go to Brady and they were still being announced as a team in New Orleans four months later when they won their first Super Bowl.
Now the we're-on-to-Cincinnati resiliency of this team has Brady and Belichick a win away from their fourth title.
"It's a good statement about how life has to be in football," said fullback James Develin. "One thing happens good or bad and you just have to move to the next thing."
Develin never played a game with the Bengals after he joined their practice squad as a rookie in 2010 and continued on in 2011 before getting cut in the 2012 training camp. He's played every game for the last two years in New England and credits the veterans with keeping it together early in the season.
"The veteran leadership has really come through," Develin said. "Brady, (Vince) Wilfork, the (Steven) Gostkowskis, and the guys that have been around this thing for a long time and have had a lot of success. We definitely relied on our leadership. They knew exactly what we knew. That we could be successful, but we had to go out and do it."
Develin was on the ground floor of the Bengals tearing down the 2010 team and rebuilding with the first two draft picks of 2011, wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton.
"When I was there, we had a lot of young guys that weren't too far into their careers," Develin said. "That's all changing now. Andy Dalton, Rey Maualuga, those guys have had some really good careers for a long time, so I think that dynamic is changing."
The Pats were wary of the Bengals. The year before they stopped Brady's streak of 52 straight games with a TD pass and in Cincinnati's 13-6 victory they held the Pats without a touchdown for the first time in years.
"They were a playoff team in a tough division," Brady said. "They have a great quarterback, great coach and great players. Only one team reaches this point from the conference. They had a great team all season, but there's only one team that can make it."
Asked what the Patriots did to beat Cincinnati and get the run started, Solder paused.
"I'm kind of focused on the Seahawks," Solder said. "Right now I'm not looking too far back to Cincinnati. I don't mean to let you down there."
The headlines are flying. The controversies are buzzing. The distractions are multiplying.
But they've moved on from Cincinnati. And Baltimore. And Indy. And….