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Tom Brady returns fire on critics

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Enough.

The quarterback was tired of it all -- of the so-called experts who barely knew him dissecting his game and his psyche, of the reports that swirled in the morning hours that a schism had developed between him and his coaching staff, of the perception that his days as an elite quarterback are well behind him.

It had been building for days, maybe even weeks. The frustration manifested itself in an offense that was stalled, stale, undermanned and overwhelmed. The quarterback shouldered some of the blame for passes that were ill-timed, fell short or were forced into coverage.

Yeah, Tom Brady was tired of all that.

But most of all, he was just tired of losing.

Talent (or lack thereof) explains quite a bit about what happens on any given Sunday, but sometimes emotion rules the day. Sometimes when the football world piles on, criticizing and posturing and gleefully dismissing you, it amplifies what you need to do better than any demoralizing film session or beatdown in practice.

In the old days, when championships flowed like Cristal Brut champagne, New England's stars invented slights to motivate themselves. "They don't respect us!" Rodney Harrison would bellow, and we'd all do our best to suppress a smile because it was a ruse, a ploy. It was the Patriot Way of keeping everyone edgy, sharp, ready.

This time, the indignities were real. Brady and Bill Belichick and Vince Wilfork were humiliated a week ago on the field, then eviscerated off it. The lone remnants of the Patriots dynasty suffered through so many embarrassing moments in that loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it opened the door for a discussion about whether their time had come and gone.

On the long plane ride home, Brady said, the players discussed the urgency of putting that loss behind them and showing up with the proper focus and resolve against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I think you just focus on things you can control," Brady said. "To ride the ups and downs of, 'You're great. You suck. You're great. You suck,' it's exhausting."

As the negative stories cropped up each day, it was easy to surmise the coach was dutifully logging and highlighting each slight, each insult. Belichick lathered his football team into a proper New England frenzy, then stood back, zipped up his Darth Vader hoodie and watched his team unleash its frustrations on an undefeated Bengals team.

The Patriots battered Cincinnati into giving up 43 points, which just happened to be 10 more points than the Bengals had allowed in their first three games combined.

You do realize that Cincinnati waltzed into Gillette Stadium with the top defense in the NFL in points allowed, right? Before Sunday night, the Bengals were giving up an average of just 11 points a game. They were second in the league in third-down conversions (holding teams to a 31.7 percent success rate) and third in opponents' QBR.

Brady shredded each one of those statistics, benefiting from a series of two-tight-end sets that finally gave Tim Wright (5 catches, 85 yards, 1 TD) the opportunity to demonstrate his worth, and enabled Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD) to take another giant step toward re-establishing himself as a nightmarish matchup. By mixing in the right amount of running plays to keep the offense balanced and unpredictable, the rout was on -- 43-17 Patriots.

Lose by 27 points one week, win by 26 the next.

There were stark differences between this performance and the shellacking that the Chiefs applied last Monday in Kansas City. For one thing, Brady was able to control his cadence, which was all but impossible in the raucous Arrowhead Stadium, where fans set a record for the loudest crowd at an outdoor stadium.

For another, the Patriots were able to strike first, building a 14-0 lead and making the other guys try to play from behind for a change.

Yet the most tangible difference seemed to be a team that played with an urgency and focus that was readily apparent by its animated responses to each play.

"It's a game of emotion," Brady said. "You can't come out there without being at your highest. Coach [Belichick] talks about it all the time."

Brady was a fountain of emotion from the moment he stepped on the field 45 minutes before kickoff.

When Brady exchanged a demonstrative high-five with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in his pregame warm-ups, inquiring minds wanted to know: Was it a genuine, spontaneous show of solidarity or a premeditated moment orchestrated for the cameras? (Maybe it was as simple as Brady approaching McDaniels and saying, "Hey man, Mankins is gone. We're both screwed!!")

Only they weren't screwed Sunday night. Not for a minute. The porous offensive line, the musical chairs substitution pattern of "Will someone please protect Tom Brady" suddenly was a moot issue. Brady had enough time to look up his Uggs stock before throwing the football. Logan Mankins did not walk through that door, but the player they traded him for -- Wright -- finally did.

The tone was set on the opening drive, which, believe it or not, was an Edelman-free attack. There was a 20-yard strike to Brandon LaFell, a 30-yard hook-up with Wright and not one, not two, but three Brady keepers.

"When you see your quarterback out there sacrificing his body and doing whatever it takes to win the football game, you better make sure you're doing the same," special-teams maestro Matthew Slater said.

By the time Brady had culminated the second touchdown in as many drives with a 17-yard strike to Wright, the crowd was chanting his name like the old days, when his résumé and reputation were unblemished.

As Brady retreated to the sideline, he began screaming expletives at his teammates, shouting and banging his helmet ... only this time he was smiling.

Only this time he was screaming for joy.

"He came back strong and showed them he's still a young buck with a lot left in his tank," Gronkowski said. "I'm proud to be playing with him."

Although most of the Patriots claimed they had blocked out all the "outside noise," the quarterback came clean, conceding he was aware of the firestorm surrounding his underperforming team.

"Well, it's hard to be oblivious to things," Brady said. "We all have TVs or the Internet or the questions I get and the emails that I get from people who are concerned. I'm always emailing them back like, 'Nobody died. It's just a loss.'"

The lopsided Patriots win doesn't mean all of the problems from that Kansas City debacle miraculously have evaporated. Brady still missed some throws -- you can be sure his detractors will describe them for you in detail. The offensive line is still a work in progress. Both Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis left with injuries.

But when you cause three turnovers, rack up 505 net yards of offense and your quarterback joins the 50,000-yard club, you deserve a day or two to enjoy it.

After the win, Brady addressed an ESPN report that there was "tension" between him and his coaches.

"I love all those guys, my coaches," Brady said. "I've never had any tension with them, truthfully. It's unfortunate that some things get said and talked about, especially when they don't come from me, and I think that's the -- when you're in the middle of an especially tough week with our team to deal with things that are really outside football that are very personal -- very personal relationships that I've built up for a long time."

For the second time in as many weeks, Brady gave way to backup Jimmy Garoppolo in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.

This time, though, no one was clamoring for Jimmy Football. In fact, hardly anyone was watching the team's backup.

They were too busy celebrating the face of their franchise, who never grows tired of proving his detractors wrong.