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Steve Kim: Bill Belichick and the Patriots are starting to party like it’s 2001

 Steve Kim: Bill Belichick and the Patriots are starting to party like it’s 2001

 Guess what: Bill Belichick can still coach his ass off.

After their third consecutive victory, a 24-6 romp over the struggling Carolina Panthers, the New England Patriots now stand at 5-4. On Sunday they made Sam Darnold look like he still played for the Jets. Darnold tossed three interceptions.

New England consistently seemed one step ahead of the Panthers on defense and did just enough on offense to control the game. Using a conservative game plan based around their trio of running backs Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, and Damien Harris, the Patriots didn't ask quarterback Mac Jones to do too much.It looked a lot like the early Brady-Belichick years, when the Patriots relied on a stingy defense and a quarterback who managed the game.

Last year in the midst of the divorce from the iconic Tom Brady, the franchise suffered through a 7-9 season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Meanwhile, Brady lifted his seventh Lombardi Trophy in Tampa Bay.

This divorce seemed as one-sided as that of Jeff Bezos.

It was believed that Brady was the overwhelming winner in this high-profile parting of ways. Belichick was exposed as nothing more than the beneficiary of an all-time great behind center. What people forgot is that Belichick is one of the most adroit football minds the game has ever seen.

There were many people who may not have wanted to admit it, but they yearned for Belichick to fail miserably. To them, he was a curmudgeon. He didn't play nice with the media, and others didn't agree with his political leanings.

This year's Patriots were expected to struggle again, but at 5-4 they are now just half a game behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. Three of their four losses have come by a combined nine points. Strangely enough, they have suffered all their losses at home, but are now 4-0 on the road. They are a team surging in confidence and getting better each week.

Yeah, I know, Belichick is an easy guy to hate. He's not a warm-and-fuzzy guy. What really grinds the gears of those who aren't Patriots fans is that he really doesn't seem to care. He's about football and really nothing else. Belichick is cold, calculating, and at times seemingly heartless — ask Stephon Gilmore, and before him, Lawyer Milloy and Richard Seymour.

Belichick wouldn't have hesitated to shoot Old Yeller.

Don't expect Belichick to say too many good things about his current squad. "The Patriot Way" is about doing your job (well) and then doing it again the following week. This just feels like the quintessential Belichick team.

As he would say, they're on to Cleveland.

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