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Belichick fallout was comical, but no one laughing in Pats locker room

Can't resist a few more lingering thoughts in the continuing aftermath of "Bill-gate,'' perhaps the perfect NFL storm for the cacophony of debate that the 24/7 news cycle generates and thrives on.....

• Like a magnifying glass and sunlight being used to burn a hole in a piece of paper, Monday was one of those natural phenomena to marvel at and behold. At least in a media sense. As I traveled home from Indianapolis after covering the Patriots-Colts Sunday night, at some point it became obvious that a huge part of the story itself had become everyone's reaction to the story. Love or hate the audacity of the call, it was all Bill Belichick, all the time, from every direction. What a remarkable monster of a topic it was, and I don't know that I've ever seen anything like it.

With seemingly everyone shy of President Obama in Asia having weighed in on Belichick's fourth-and-2 gamble -- wonder what the 2 billion Chinese thought about the spot? -- I couldn't help but think that there must be more ex-Patriots out there who have an opinion besides Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi. I demand to hear from every last one of them.

What does Richard Seymour say? How about Mike Vrabel? Ty Law? Lawyer Milloy? Drew Bledsoe? Ellis Hobbs? Am I missing any former Patriots who left Foxboro on something less than their own terms? I mean, if Harrison and Bruschi, two of Belichick's favorite guys, were that out-spoken in their distaste for the call, imagine what Seymour and Milloy might spew. Aren't we selling ourselves short a few reactions here?

• As I wrote Sunday night, I didn't like Belichick's call. After hearing almost everything everyone had to say on the matter in the past 36 hours (I think), I keep coming back to this: The Patriots played too good of a game to have their coach put them in the position of having the outcome dictated by one play. Because that's what happened when Belichick eschewed the punt. The game, and everything New England had accomplished against the Colts, essentially came down to converting that fourth-and-2. One shot, win or lose.

Maybe Peyton Manning and Indy would have scored anyway, on a six-play, 71-yard drive that used up all but 13 seconds of the clock. But if so, the Patriots defense would have had several chances to make a play and save the game. It wouldn't have been Manning on a short field, against a tired New England defense. It would have been a fairer fight: Manning on a long field, against a tired New England defense.

We'll never know who would have won if Belichick had played it conventionally, but I say you do everything in your power to avoid having one play decide the game in that situation, not encourage it.

You can't afford to gamble with a game that might determine your season after you led your arch-rival by 17 points in the fourth quarter. You can't see a nine-catch, 179-yard, two-touchdown game from Randy Moss wasted. Or a 375-yard, three-touchdown passing effort from Tom Brady. Even New England's weary defense played too well for too long Sunday night to leave it all up to the relative chance of a referee's spot of the ball on this side or that side of the 30-yard line.

• For what it's worth, I was in the New England locker room after the game, and I saw the look in the eyes of the shell-shocked players. I don't buy for a second that they were on board with Belichick's decision. The ones who deemed to talk had to say they were, but I think they were blown away by the riskiness of the call, just like the rest of us.

This wasn't just another game, and they knew that. It was at the Colts, the team New England measures itself by in the AFC. The outcome Sunday night was going to set up the second half of the Patriots season, and likely determine whether they can expect to have to go back through Indianapolis in January.

Belichick's players knew this wasn't just another tough loss. It was a game that even Manning and the rest of the Colts knew they had no realistic hopes of winning for most of the fourth quarter, but New England unbelievably gave them a shortcut to victory. The framework of the team-first mentality that Belichick has built in New England held fast Sunday night, but know this: There were plenty of doubters in that locker room. They just kept their doubts unspoken.

• The Patriots player I would have most liked to have heard from Sunday night? That's easy. Randy Moss. He's always been known to be refreshingly candid when he does talk, and often speaks the unvarnished truth that few players dare utter. Moss didn't say a word that I saw, but I know the media would have gladly pooled quite a bit more than a penny for his thoughts.

• Maybe the Patriots defense was wearing down late Sunday night, but if I would have told you at the start of training camp that New England would have played at Indy in mid-November without a defensive line that featured Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green or Ty Warren, would you have believed the Patriots would have ever held a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter of that game?

• Pretty rough weekend all around for Belichick and his coaching tree, wouldn't you say?

First, the master himself gets the green curtain peeled back in Indy. Then you've got Charlie Weis's job security looking shakier than ever after he and Notre Dame lost another big game at Pittsburgh. The bloom is definitely off the rose for Denver's Josh McDaniels, whose Broncos were upset in Washington and are in the midst of a furious fade after that magical 6-0 start. And last, we submit for your inspection Eric Mangini's Browns, who capped things off Monday night at home with an offensive effort against Baltimore that was pathetic by even their abysmal standards.

• I'll tell you who really applauded Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2. Bud Adams, that's who. It didn't save the double-bird-shooting Titans owner any money when it comes to the $250,000 league fine he got hit with, but Belichick's gambit did save him from the full glare of the media spotlight.

Just wondering, but what exactly was Bud's beef? Who can get worked up into a lather of hatred for the Bills these days?

• Ironically, I think the last debate in the NFL that inspired such vehemence, either of the pro or con variety, was the Spygate saga of 2007. I seem to recall Belichick was at the heart of that one too.

• And here's one more nugget for you: I happen to believe one play last year involving Tom Brady (his Week 1 knee injury) decided the outcome of the race in the AFC, and by extension, who won the Super Bowl. Will one play involving Brady (you know the one I'm talking about) do the same this year? I think it darn well could.

• Sorry, but I've seen enough to know Brady Quinn just isn't a big-league quarterback. That was some of the most atrocious quarterbacking I've ever seen. Did you see Quinn in the final minute of Cleveland's 16-0 loss to the Ravens, trying to throw a pair of garbage-time bombs downfield? He fired the ball five yards out of bounds on successive plays. I kid you not.

I was embarrassed for him, but it was almost downright comical. ESPN's Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden at least had the nerve to point out the obvious: It's tough to complete a pass if you don't throw it between the white lines.

Whatever Quinn might have been in Cleveland had his career gotten off to a different start in a different situation with the Browns, it doesn't matter now. He's officially a disaster, a bust, whatever you want to label him.

• How badly can the Browns botch everything they touch? They had their one true offensive weapon -- return man/receiver Josh Cribbs -- running a hook-and-ladder on the game's final meaningless play, leaving him open to injury for absolutely no good reason. Of course, Cribbs got jacked up by Baltimore's Dwan Edwards at the end of the play, and had to be taken from the field on a backboard and stretcher and hospitalized briefly overnight.

Cribbs is reportedly fine today, but I don't think his needless injury is going to help things for Mangini given that NFL Players Association officials are reportedly talking to Browns players this week about their concerns with their head coach's overbearing practice habits.

• That was quite the Week 10 in the NFL. Or should we call it Weak 10? Starting with that interception-fest that passed for a Bears-49ers game Thursday night in San Francisco and ending with the Ravens-Browns bore in Cleveland on Monday, offensive football in the league has a whole new meaning today.

• NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sat with the fans in the stands in the fourth quarter of the Bills-Titans game in Nashville on Sunday? Really? There just happen to be a seat open, or did everyone bunch up and slide down?

Can you see Paul Tagliabue ever going the populist route? No, me either. All Tags really knew about the fans on game day was that they were down there somewhere, beneath him. In more ways than one.

• Can the Raiders really be surprised that rookie receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is letting balls bounce off his chest into the arms of waiting interceptors? It's kind of his signature move, like Reggie Bush going airborne at the corner end zone pylon.

• Jon Gruden is smart to stay in TV for another few years. He is a natural in the booth, and the longer he stayed in Tampa Bay, the worse his coaching reputation got. But while he is extremely good on air, I get the feeling we're seeing a case of early Madden-itis develop. The reviews for Gruden have been so good, so early that he's getting built up into something that will probably be difficult to sustain.

Remember how good and fresh and funny John Madden was early on as a broadcaster, before everyone started telling him how good and fresh and funny he was? From then on, Madden kind of had to top himself every few years, and eventually he just started doing his John Madden schtick. I can see a little of that coming with Gruden.

• What a double whammy it'll be for Pennsylvania's two proud NFL teams if they don't have the services of Troy Polamalu or Brian Westbrook down the season's back stretch.

This is no slight on Westbrook, but the Eagles are better positioned to win without him than the Steelers are without Polamalu. And it's not even close.

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