FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Go ahead, kick the New England Patriots when they’re down.

Tell them they’re done, their reign of the AFC East – and even the AFC – is over.

Tell everyone that their franchise player, quarterback Tom Brady, is “uncomfortable” with all the personnel moves that the Patriots have recently made, that there’s tension between him and Bill Belichick.

Tell everyone that one of their young receivers has been benched because of a loud argument with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Go ahead, stir the pot. The Patriots love thinking everyone is against them.

It happened in 2003, when everyone in the locker room supposedly hated Belichick after he released Lawyer Milloy. Milloy signed with Buffalo and the Bills beat the Patriots 31-0 in the opener. That season ended with a Super Bowl ring.

The Patriots have been under siege this week following their 41-14 loss to Kansas City on Monday night.

Sunday night they proved they weren’t passing the torch over to anyone. They dismantled the more talented Cincinnati Bengals 43-17 before a raucous gathering at Gillette Stadium and a national television audience.

“It was a satisfying night tonight,” said Belichick. “Give the players credit, they did a great job.”

The offense clicked most of the time, with a nice balance of running (over 200 yards rushing as a team) and passing (292 yards by Brady). The defense, though it lost safety Devin McCourty and lineman Dominique Easley to injuries, made enough big plays to shut down the Bengals. The special teams threw in a touchdown too when Kyle Arrington returned a fumbled kickoff return 9 yards.

“Tonight was just our night, we made a lot of things happen,” Belichick said.

All week long the Patriots talked about a “sense of urgency” for this game.

The Patriots played as if their season depended on this game. And in a way it did.

It wasn’t just the national media that was questioning how good this team was and how much Brady has left. It was the local fans too, questioning how much this team had left.

The Patriots had played poorly all season, especially on offense. The offensive line had shuttled players in and out and couldn’t block, no matter who was in there.

Brady was under pressure, and when he had time to throw, he wasn’t particularly accurate.

The defense, expected to dominate, couldn’t stop the run.

It was a perfect storm of ineptitude. And the Patriots were reeling.

Sunday night, none of that mattered because of the way the Patriots dominated the Bengals. Then again, this is what we should have expected.

The Patriots are always at their best when everyone else questions them. Since Belichick became the head coach in 2000, the Patriots have lost 10 games by 20 or more points. They now have won nine of the games following them, the lone loss a one-point affair (22-21) in Miami on Dec. 6, 2009. That also followed a Monday night thrashing – that year at New Orleans.

They have learned to put the last game behind them and move on.

That was the message Belichick stressed last Wednesday when he answered five consecutive questions with the same response: “We’re on to Cincinnati.”

This was a good night, one that the fans will celebrate.

Stephen Gostkowski kicked a career-high five field goals. Stevan Ridley rushed for over 100 yards, and that’s as good a barometer of success as the Patriots have – when he goes over 100, the Patriots are 7-0. The Patriots recovered three fumbles.

But the Patriots will tell you it’s only one game. They are 3-2, tied for first in the AFC East, heading to Buffalo next week, where the Bills are also 3-2 following their 17-14 comeback win over Detroit.

Belichick credited his players and coaching staff for turning this team around on a short week. “They worked hard this week.”

Now they’ve got to do it again. Only this time they have to put an impressive win behind them.

It’s on to Buffalo.


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