Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots usually take the high road when it comes to trash-talking and verbal spats, but Lane Johnson’s case is unique.
Bill Belichick is one of the great constants in the NFL. Working in a position with extremely high turnover year after year, Belichick remains steadfastly in charge as both head coach and general manager of the New England Patriots – a dual position he’s now held for two decades.
Season after season, he has his team competing with the league’s best for yet another Super Bowl championship. It doesn’t matter how many assistant coaches or staffers he loses to other franchises, or how many valuable contributing players leave for hefty contracts in free agency; he reloads across all positions calmly and confidently, then chases another title with ruthless precision and drive.
In virtually every press conference or media session he’s forced to participate in, he gives droll, monotone, mumbling simple sentences as answers. He refuses to take the bait on juicy topics and storylines, while also keeping his cards extremely close to his chest to maintain all competitive advantages. Belichick’s notoriously surly interactions with reporters have become almost parodies of themselves at this point.
And yet, despite all this consistency and hard-edged routine, every now and then Belichick does something surprising and off-character.
Back in 2009, the Ravens were in town for a regular season game against the Patriots. Baltimore wide receiver Derrick Mason made a catch near the New England sideline and had some choice words for then-Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees, with whom he apparently shared some kind of history. Belichick didn’t like what Mason said, and he let him hear it, according to NBC Sports’ Ryan Homler.
“F— you Mason. Why don’t we talk after the game, all right? Just shut the f— up.”
The Patriots won the game 27-21, effectively backing up Belichick’s stance.
Two years later, cameras caught Belichick saying something even more provocative while walking off the field at MetLife Stadium, right after his New England Patriots defeated the rival New York Jets 37-16. According to Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Peralta, Belichick was overheard remarking something to the effect of, “37 points on the best defense in the league, suck my [email protected]#!”
While Belichick never confirmed nor denied making such a racy comment, the audio is hard to dispute.
Perhaps the point to both of these examples is that while Belichick has certainly led by example in creating a no-nonsense, professional work environment for his team – the fabled “Patriot Way” – even he is not impervious to letting his emotions get the best of him at times.
He’s also not deaf to the outside noise and news commentary surrounding his team either, apparently.
Two years ago after Philadelphia defeated New England in Super Bowl LII, Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson poured fuel on the fire by taking some shots at the Patriots in a well-publicized interview with the media. During an appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon My Take,” Johnson referred to the Pats as a “fear-based organization” filled with “robots,” via Heavy’s Mike Greger.
“I just think that The Patriot Way is a fear-based organization. Not to be reckless, but I’d much rather have fun and win a Super Bowl than be miserable and win five Super Bowls. But hey, it is what it is.”
His words didn’t sit too kindly with Patriots fans, many of whom called him out on social media. One year later, after New England defeated the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII and won their sixth Super Bowl championship, several Patriots players made it clear that they’d heard Johnson’s remarks as well… and they hadn’t forgotten about what he said.
During their victory parade in downtown Boston, defensive backs Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty recorded footage of themselves triumphantly celebrating their win. Right in the midst of all the revelry, they decided to call out Johnson by name.
“Somebody said it wasn’t fun to play in New England,” McCourty began in the video, looking directly into the camera.
Harmon immediately jumped in to join him: “Oh, Lane Johnson… when you go to four Super Bowls in six years, that’s fun baby.”
McCourty then asks Harmon, “How many rings you got?”
Harmon smiles and answers, “I got three rings!”
Both Patriots players look like they’re having a lot of fun in the video, for what it’s worth.
But back to Bill Belichick, the Minister of the No-Fun-Zone. Keep in mind, this is the same guy who led that same Boston crowd of Patriots fans in a rousing chant of “No days off!” during the New England parade, so he’s not exactly the first person you’d think of when listing fun-loving personalities on the Patriots.
And yet – surprise, surprise – it was Belichick himself who seemed to call back Johnson’s comments from nearly two years ago on Sunday night during his postgame presser. With his team freshly victorious over the Eagles 17-10 in a game that both teams desperately needed to win, Belichick told reporters that “it looked like everyone had fun out there today,” per Bleacher Report’s Kyle Newport.
Coincidence? Absolutely not.
Belichick is far too intelligent for that comment to be made in innocence and/or ignorance, and he’s obviously displayed a subtle penchant for rubbing salt in the wounds of his adversaries over the years, as evidenced by his prior comments about the Jets and Ravens in the examples above. He knew what he was doing when he made that comment publicly to reporters, right after a hard-fought win over Johnson’s Eagles in a game that Johnson had to exit early with an injury.
Harmon and McCourty may have been the first Patriots to clap back at Johnson by letting their play do the talking – and most importantly, by winning another ring. But Belichick is the latest Patriot to do it – and he’s also arguably the greatest yet, considering he’s a head coach not known for his trash-talking or for listening in to what other players and coaches say about his organization.