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Belichick has Patriots eyeing playoffs

(Dec. 5, 2001) -- At this time last year, the New England Patriots were 3-9 en route to finishing 5-11. After Sunday's victory over the New York Jets, the Patriots are 7-5 and making a playoff run in Bill Belichick's second season as head coach.

"It was a big win for our team because the Jets had a game-and-a-half lead on us coming in, and had we fallen 2 1/2 back with four to play, it would have been pretty hopeless," Belichick told NFL.com. "This win cut the gap for us and keeps us in the race, and that's what we really needed to do. We still have Miami on our schedule, and we've got Cleveland coming up this week, so we're going to have to win if we want to stay in the race."

Belichick, a former Jets assistant under Bill Parcells, earned his first victory against his former club after losing the previous three meetings.

"We've played three really tough games against the Jets, up in Foxboro this year, and in New York on a Monday night last year, and they've come down to the wire," Belichick said. "I think that's the way it is with these two teams -- they play hard and they know each other well. There's not a lot of surprises, and they've played close hard-fought games that have come down to a kick or a play or two."

With his team trailing 13-0 at halftime, Belichick had to rally his troops.

"We just basically talked about how we needed to play our best 30 minutes of football for the whole year," Belichick said. "It was going to take a full team effort -- offense, defense, special teams. It wasn't that we weren't playing hard it was just that we weren't playing well. We just weren't doing things as precisely as they needed to be done, and I think that we played a smarter game and we were able to really focus in on what exactly the Jets were doing and exactly how we needed to try to take it away.

"I think the players did a great job of that in the second half and I think our offensive line played more physically, and that gave us a chance to run the ball and a little bit more time to throw it."

Running backs Marc Edwards and Antowain Smith -- two free-agent acquisitions in the offseason -- ran for second-half touchdowns against the Jets. Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick from last season, completed 15 of his 17 passes during the final two periods as the Patriots outscored their AFC East rivals 17-3 in the second half.

But it was Brady's quarterback bootleg, on a third-and-3 situation, that sealed the victory for New England.

"When he came over [during the timeout] and I told him we wanted to give him the ball and run the quarterback bootleg, he kind of rolled his eyes like, 'I'm really hurt and I'm not sure, maybe we should give this to somebody else,' " Belichick said. "And I said, 'Well, if you can't do, it we'll run something else, and he said, 'No, give it to me. I got it in me.'

"So, it was really a courageous run. He took some big hits in there during the first half and stood in there and kept some poise and threw the ball in the second half and really made some big plays for us."

Since taking over the Patriots, Belichick has added 39 new players, 24 of whom are in their first year with the club.

"We've had to overhaul a few things and we haven't had a lot of salary-cap room to work with in our first two years and we've had to release some players in order to field a good competitive team," Belichick said. "Last year, we had a lot of rookies on the team and this year we've been able to upgrade with some good experienced veteran guys like [Roman] Phifer and [Anthony] Pleasant, Mike Vrabel, Matt Stevens, Smith, [Mike] Compton, [Joe] Andruzzi, David Patten, Bryan Cox and you can go right down the line with all the guys who have been stepping up for us. I think that extra veteran leadership and extra experience really helped us in a tight game like the one we just played."

With an important divisional win under his belt, Belichick's attention turned to this week's matchup against the Browns -- for whom he was the head coach 1991-95.

"It's a big win for our football team and now we have a big game against Cleveland and then Buffalo, Miami and Carolina," he said, "so we still have our work cut out for us this year. But if we stay in there, and keep fighting, I think we'll be OK."

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