Now what? What’s the next trick designed to keep the New England Patriots from winning a sixth Super Bowl championship in 17 seasons?

Conventional means have been powerless to stop what is now undeniably the greatest quarterback/coach/owner triumvirate in history. So “The Media,” as we’re all derisively known to anyone whose self-interest contradicts the day’s reportage, is here to help.

Check that. It was ESPN, and hopefully you’ll understand if friendly, neighborhood sportswriters don’t enjoy being held under the same umbrella as those clowns. And specifically it was a decently crafted piece from a relatively respected voice, albeit one parroting the same “they hate so-and-so” foolishness introduced by Tom Jackson more than a decade ago.

There was a shred of truth to it then, and like most evidence of smoke, surely somewhere there is a flicker of flame now. But if you watched Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game in its entirety and still think there is any danger of the Patriots burning off their eyebrows with the chemistry set, I can’t help you.

New England’s 35-14 trouncing of the Tennessee Titans looked as if it could have been the tape of any January win over any nondescript January opponent in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015 or 2017. Tom Brady performed surgery. Bill Belichick played mind games. Robert Kraft clapped awkwardly and imbibed in the climate-controlled comfort of the owner’s box.

The whole exceeded the sum of the parts. Same stuff, different year. Whatever strain festers in this three-way marriage of convenience was deliciously imperceptible to the naked eye.

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And yes, that’s all any player-coach-owner relationship has ever been. NFL players, even surefire, first-boardroom hall of famers, have a short shelf life. NFL coaches are hired to be fired, or to get restless. Team owners typify the reasons most Americans have limited respect for their corporate masters: They sign the check, but they know alarmingly little about how the sausage gets made.

You can apply those distinctions to any professional sport. That chain of command is forever a flimsy state of semi-peaceful coexistence. The idea that everyone in a sports enterprise has to like one another is overrated, unless perhaps you’re in charge of a high school girls’ basketball team.

Most of us in any professional realm successfully set aside our feelings about coworkers or outside influences and get our job done every day. The vast majority of us aren’t remotely as good at what we do as are Brady, Belichick and Kraft. Call me crazy, but maybe those three dudes have earned at least a tiny benefit of the doubt.

Even from a distance, even without unnamed sources, I can see traits in all three guys that are capable of annoying somebody else to no end.

Brady: The diet, the overly involved and opinionated wife, the constant yelling, gesticulating and f-bombing, the immunity from criticism.

Belichick: The absence of personality, the tendency to manage by fear and intimidation, the lack of loyalty to even his greatest players, the creative interpretation of the rule book.

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Kraft: The afore-suggested ivory-tower excess, and the manner in which it relates to our universal mistrust of old, white men.

There’s no doubt that Brady’s quirks and needs wear thin after a while. And I’m certain he didn’t care to have Jimmy Garoppolo around, any more than I would want my publisher bringing in a 20-something with a Master’s degree in journalism as an understudy.

Knowing his grasp of football history, I’m positive Belichick is forward-thinking enough to realize that 40-year-old quarterbacks aren’t long for this league, and that excessive obligation to aging superstars has put even the NFL’s greatest dynasties “on the clock” in short order. Much as he adores stockpiling secondary draft picks, I doubt he wanted to trade his promising backup quarterback for one.

Team owners err on the side of players in personal relationships because there is a greater degree of separation. They feel less threatened by players than coaches. Also, they become owners because they’re fans, and like all of us, they tend to live vicariously through the guys on the field. So it’s easy to imagine Kraft annoying the living daylights out of Belichick without even trying.

In other words, I believe that almost every word in the so-called “hit piece” by Seth Wickersham contains seeds of truth. I also believe said truth is completely irrelevant and will do nothing to compromise the Patriots’ pursuit of another title. Yes, it might even galvanize them, as common enemies often do.

Because we’ve seen this movie before. Every word, every facial expression, every behavior of the Patriots’ three-headed monster and their monolithic franchise has been dissected beyond recognition since the turn of the century.

They’ve overcome it all, which is what excellence does. So move along. There’s nothing new to see here.

Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.


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