But it is not a stretch to say that, after all his years in New England, Belichick can communicate with his team without opening his mouth in public.
Over their next 29 offensive plays, his Patriots stormed to 21 unanswered points, a surge that put in motion New England’s 35-14 rout of the Titans. The victory extended the Patriots’ home playoff winning streak to eight games and assured that New England would be in the A.F.C. championship game for a record seventh time in a row on Jan. 21. The Patriots will host the winner of Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The thorough destruction of the Titans ended a week of turmoil for New England in the wake of an ESPN report that suggested there were rifts among the Patriots’ holy trinity — Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the owner Robert Kraft. The figurative ramparts enveloping the Patriots’ complex here, built on secrecy and communal silence across nearly two fruitful decades, suddenly seemed fractured.
But it is important to note who came off best in the story describing a conflict within the Patriots’ hierarchy. It was Belichick, which hints that someone from his camp was at the root of the anonymous sources in the report.
Which is another way of saying that Belichick can communicate with his team without opening his mouth in public.
And who came across worst in this contretemps? It was without question Brady, who was portrayed as self-involved in a flurry of off-the-record intimations.
Keep in mind that Brady had just experienced what was, for him, a difficult December. He had thrown an interception in each of his last five games, had been knocked to the ground more often than usual and had seen his completion percentage dip.
But on Saturday, a spirited Brady unleashed yet another spectacular playoff performance, completing 35 of 53 passes for 337 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. It was Brady’s 10th playoff game with at least three touchdown passes, breaking a record previously held by Joe Montana.
Late Saturday night, it was suggested to Brady that the preceding week had held a particularly negative vibe. Brady smiled and chirped, “Really?”
He continued, “It just goes with the territory.”
Perhaps tellingly, when Belichick met with reporters after Brady spoke, the coach was reminded that his quarterback had recently struggled through some inconsistent efforts. Belichick, who surely has his hands in everything that happens around his team, was asked if Brady had made some adjustments.
“I don’t know,” Belichick responded. “That would be a question for him.”
Brady, by the way, seldom interacted with Belichick during Saturday’s game — usually only during timeouts when Brady came to the sideline to confer with the coaching staff.
As for the other member of the Patriots’ power trio, Kraft kept a low profile Saturday. He was seen before the game greeting his players as they jogged on and off the field.
When asked on Saturday, the Patriots in uniform denied that there were any meaningful off-the-field distractions in the days before their rout of the Titans.
“At this time of the year, there is no such thing as a distraction,” safety Devin McCourty said. “I don’t care what’s come out or is said.”
That may be true, but the Patriots’ vigorous dismantling of the Titans leaves open the possibility that Belichick found a shrewd way to inspire his team to greater heights at a pivotal time. Because the Patriots players surely went into the game knowing that their team had a 17-3 home playoff record in this century, they could have been looking past Tennessee to the conference championship. New England was favored by nearly two touchdowns on Saturday.
But the Patriots once again played with a consistency and poise that have been largely unmatched in the N.F.L. playoffs since they won their first Super Bowl after the 2001 regular season.
When the Titans stymied the New England running game, the Patriots threw to their running backs instead, with Dion Lewis and James White combining to catch 13 passes. When the Titans thwarted the Patriots’ downfield passing attempts, Brady threw the football underneath the deep coverage to Danny Amendola, who had 11 receptions for 112 yards. When Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota befuddled the New England defense early in the game with his elusive dashes out of the pocket, the Patriots adjusted to stay in the proper pass rush lanes and eventually sacked Mariota eight times.
“We’ve got a lot of good players,” Belichick said solemnly afterward. “I’m proud of them.”
When Saturday’s game ended, Brady sprinted from his seat on the bench to shake hands with Mariota. Belichick slowly made his way onto the field, standing by himself. After lingering there for about a minute, he turned with a wave toward the stands.
As all of the New England players, including Brady, exited the field through a tunnel beyond one of the end zones, Belichick, alone except for a team employee who walked about 20 feet behind him, sauntered toward a different, side exit.
He disappeared down a flight of stairs. Mission accomplished.