Bill Belichick wanted no part of it.
To Belichick, praise is poison.
His Patriots had just advanced to their record eighth consecutive AFC Championship game by virtue of Sunday’s 41-28 beatdown of the visiting Chargers at Gillette Stadium, and Belichick was asked to put that remarkable accomplishment of unprecedented sustained success and the challenges that come with it into perspective.
With the expression on his face, you’d have thought the dentist had just told the Patriots’ churlish coach to relax and lean back in the chair “because this is going to hurt for a minute.”
“Yeah, I mean honestly I don’t care about that right now,” Belichick said. “I’m worried about this team and what this team has done. This team has worked hard all year to put itself in position to compete for the AFC Championship. That’s really what we’re focused on.
“Whatever happened last year or some other year, whatever it is, it is. It’s all in the books. This team has a lot in front of it, and that’s really what we’re going to focus on — what this team can do.’’
And an expected response when you understand that one of Belichick’s core mantras is about his players and coaches keeping their eye on the prize without distraction.
That’s why praise is poison to Belichick. Praise is a distraction.
Despite how completely warranted praise is for the job Belichick has done overseeing this football dynasty that has exceeded any in the history of team sports in terms of staying power.
What Belichick has done — make no mistake, with the help of quarterback Tom Brady — is comparable to what Tiger Woods did in golf for the better part of his two decades of dominance.
The five NFL titles in eight Super Bowl appearances, going to a 13th AFC Championship game (Sunday in Kansas City), the 16 AFC East division titles and the NFL-record 40 playoff victories Belichick has coached the Patriots to in his 19 years in New England is at least comparable to the 14 major championships Woods won from 1997 to 2008.
But don’t tell Belichick that. Praise is poison.
After the win over the Chargers, Belichick went out of his way not to comment specifically on the fantastic performances of individual players — like when he was asked about running back Sony Michel and his 129 rushing yards and three touchdowns, running back James White and his 15 receptions on 17 targets, receiver Julian Edelman and his nine catches for 151 yards and tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose blocking resembled that of a Pro Bowl tackle.
In fairness, not to make Belichick out to be a total Grinch, he generally praised the work of everyone around him, saying, “I couldn’t be prouder of the effort from the coaching staff [and] players.’’
He simply would not single anyone out, even when asked.
A method to his madness.
Praise is poison.
Yet praise, respect and admiration are warranted for the sustained excellence the curmudgeonly coach has presided over.
NFL teams have a difficult time making it to the playoffs two consecutive seasons, much less even fantasizing about making it to eight consecutive conference championship games.
“It’s amazing,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said. “It’s history. It’s testament to what Coach Belichick and [owner] Mr. [Bob] Kraft have built over the last two decades. It shows how they have a standard excellence — no matter who plays here. That just shows the kind of players we have in this locker room — selfless players who buy into the team. We have no ‘me’ guys who just worry about themselves and just worry about stats.
“You see those guys each and every week. We have guys who are committed to just winning.’’
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Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ veteran special teams captain and a heartbeat of the locker room, said of the eight title game appearances: “You can never lose perspective on what we’ve been able to accomplish.
“I’ve been around this game my entire life and to see something like this and be a part of something like this is really special,’’ Slater said.
“They don’t just hand that out,’’ said cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who’s in just his second season with the Patriots.
“It’s hard,” safety Devin McCourty said. “I said that to the DBs before the game — just to be grateful for the opportunity we had [Sunday]. I think sometimes from the outside looking in, you go to eight straight AFC Championship games, you’re in the playoffs 10 years in a row, you kind of get in a mode like it’ll keep happening, it’ll be there.”
McCourty’s message was clear: Take nothing for granted.
Music to Belichick’s ears.