Analyst Stephen A. Smith defended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from the criticism of his colleague Max Kellerman during Thursday’s ESPN "First Take." Amid the Patriots’ struggles, the ESPN hosts debated whether Brady or head coach Bill Belichick is responsible for the Patriots’ unprecedented success over the past two decades. Kellerman, a known Brady hater, chose Belichick, stating that the Patriots would make the playoffs even if Brady leaves for another team. “I’m still telling you that next year the Patriots will do better than wherever Brady goes because it was always more Belichick than Brady,” Kellerman said, per a report by Ricky Doyle of New England Sports Network (NESN).

However, Smith called Kellerman’s argument "utterly ridiculous," saying the 42-year-old Brady was “doing it up” in the last 19 years. Smith said there were many occasions where Brady came shining through even with the challenges facing the Patriots. While Smith had no argument about Brady being the GOAT due to Belichick, he said that the same level of respect should be given to Tom Brady when it comes to Belichick. “Because how great would Bill Belichick be if he didn’t have Tom Brady?” Smith stressed.

Smith added that it’s unfair to blame Brady for the Patriots’ current struggles, saying they wouldn't be talking about the veteran quarterback if he had better weapons around him.

Patriots focused on business at hand

The Patriots, amid a two-game slump, found themselves embroiled in another controversy when a staff member was caught recording the Cincinnati Bengals sideline from the press box during the Cleveland Browns-Bengals clash last Sunday.

In a statement, the Patriots claimed full responsibility for their actions, but clarified that the footage will be used for their “Do Your Job” online video feature on a team scout. In addition, the Patriots informed the Browns about their video shoot, but forgot to tell the Bengals about it. Belichick also clarified that the football staff had nothing to do with it. While the incident has become a national issue, mainly due to the Patriots “Spygate” incident in 2007, the players said the latest incident won’t distract them from business at hand.

Veterans tuning out the noise

In a report by Andy Hart of WEEI.com, the Patriots veterans said the issue won’t affect their preparation for their upcoming clash with the Bengals on Sunday. “It honestly doesn’t. Just kind of tune out the noise, focus on what we have to do, study up on our opponent,” veteran running back James White said. He also underscored the importance of abiding by the sign “ignore the noise” before they enter the Patriots facility.

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The running back said everybody will have their own opinion about the issue, but the Patriots are focused on improving their execution as they try to snap a two-game losing streak. Veteran safety Devin McCourty, for his part, said the issue has nothing to do with the players so they are not affected by it. Veteran tight end Ben Watson said the issue could be used as a motivation for the team to band together and step up.

The Patriots are 9.5-point favorites over the 1-12 Bengals on Sunday.

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