SAN DIEGO - Dec. 2, 1995. That's the last time I remember Bill Belichick being accused of running up the score.
His Browns were trailing the host Chargers 31-10. Reporters had drifted from the comfy press box at what was then called Jack Murphy Stadium and were standing near one of the end zones.
The Chargers have this tradition of scaring the bejesus out of sportswriters by firing a cannon blast at the end of each game. Reporters were preparing for the nearby explosion when Belichick threw a curveball and called time out.
Out trotted place-kicker Matt Stover to kick a 40-yard field goal as time expired. The ball sailed through the uprights as one reporter cracked, "Bill Belichick just became the first coach in NFL history to lose by 18 points and run up the score."
Twelve years later, it's a much different story. The Patriots' 52-7 crushing of the Redskins on Sunday has many accusing Belichick of running up the winning score while at the controls of one of the greatest teams in NFL history. Even out here on the other coast, Chargers coach Norv Turner joked about the Patriots' 45-point victory and how it had become a hot topic in NFL circles on Monday.
Lamenting an overthrown pass to Chris Chambers that should have been an easy 65-yard touchdown in Sunday's 35-10 victory over the Texans, Turner paused and smiled. The Chargers were leading 35-3 midway through the third quarter when the deep ball was overthrown.
"Then again," he said, "I suppose if we hit that one, people would be accusing me of running up the score. So ... "
The Patriots are 8-0 and are averaging an NFL-leading 41.3 points per game heading into Sunday's showdown at Indianapolis. The Colts are 7-0 and averaging a mere 32 points per game.
Not since the Buffalo All-Americans (7-0) met the Akron Pros (7-0) in 1921 have two unbeaten NFL teams met this late in the season.
It's the perfect matchup. The Colts and Tony Dungy are the good guys in white hats. Belichick and the Patriots are the bad guys in black hats.
But, despite that and as much as I'd like to think otherwise, Belichick didn't do anything wrong in slapping the Redskins with their worst loss in 46 years.
The two plays in question are a fourth-and-1 from the Washington 7-yard line with 11:02 remaining, and a fourth-and-2 from the Washington 37 with 7:16 left. The Patriots converted both times en route to scoring touchdowns and taking leads of 45-0 and 52-0.
"What do you want us to do, kick a field goal?" Belichick asked. "It's 38-0. It's fourth down. It's the fourth quarter. We're just out there playing."
Washington defensive end Phillip Daniels said, well, yeah, he'd rather they kick the field goal.
"You've already got a giant lead and you still want to go for it on fourth down?" Daniels said. "To me, that's running up the score, no matter how you look at it."
To me, Daniels looks worse in saying that than Belichick does in going for it on fourth down.
And besides, on the fourth-and-1 at the 7, the Patriots did run the ball. Quarterback Tom Brady gained 2 yards on a sneak.
If Daniels and the Redskins are so mad, then stop Brady from falling forward for a first down, for gosh sakes. There also was 11 minutes left. And, remember, this is an NFL season that has seen the Lions score a league-record 34 fourth-quarter points, and Sage Rosenfels tie an NFL mark with four fourth-quarter touchdown passes.