The Pats are an extremely tight-knit group and the notion of tainted championships, dirty records, and the finger of uncertain legitimacy pointed at their accomplishments seemed to light a fuse under the team as a whole.
Together, they have spent the past 3 months on a mission of erasing any doubt. Thus far: mission accomplished.
As the cloud of suspicion has lifted from the head of Belichick, the opposite has been the case with the Eric Mangini.
Since the story of Spy-gate went public, the perception of Mangini has shifted somewhat. Public opinion towards the Jets front-man has seemed to evolve from that of a hero whistle-blower, to now being dubbed something of a back stabber; a man who broke an unspoken rule within the NFL's coaching fraternity by ratting out a fellow brother.
With each passing victory, the Patriots have not only marched closer to history, they have also trekked further away from the perception that threatened to haunt them into eternity, that of cheaters.
Mangini- who right around this time last year was being hailed "Mangenius"- has struggled mightily in his sophomore season behind the helm. At 3-10, the Jets are tied with the second worst record in the league. Things aren't expected to get any better this Sunday, they have been pegged 24-point underdogs by the Vegas oddsmakers.
The feud between Mangini and his protégé did not start with this season's video-taping scandal. Rather, the rift has been on-going since the day Mangini took the Jets job. Spy-gate, was simply another chapter; albeit a rather large and important one.
It wasn't long ago- a year and a month to be exact- that this same Jets team took the field at Gillette Stadium and stunned the Patriots. Walking away with a 17-14 victory and arguably the most important win of the Mangini era. A win that many Jets players admitted was motivated by the open disrespect Belichick had shown toward their head coach.
Of course, finding such motivation is a bit more difficult when a team is losing. Last season the Jets were a winning ball club. A group that was scrapping for a playoff spot and knew that win in New England was pivotal toward their chances. This time around, it appears, the team is just hoping they can avoid an embarrassment. However, that's not to say there isn't some added motivation.
"We believe in him," Kerry Rhodes said of his head coach. "He's our guy and we are going to stick with him in whatever situation he is in. If they think he is a cheater, or whatever the situation is, they think about us the same way as we think about them. We are going to come out and fight for it; we will fight to the end."
In terms of records, the two teams that will share the field on Sunday in New England could not be any more different. However, what remains the same is the mutual disdain these two teams share for one another. One thing that is for certain is that the Patriots are prepared to play their guts out for the sake of their coach. Whether or not the Jets do the same could make all the difference in the world.