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Bill Belichick 2002 Final Season Press Conf. Transcript - 12/30/2002

Belichick: The disappointment of winning that game but not being in the playoffs has settled in and so it’s a bittersweet end to the season.



BB: Okay, as I said yesterday after the game that was a performance that I told the players that I was very proud and complimentary of, the way they fought and persevered through the game and through a tough situation. [They] came back and did a lot of good things at the end of the game. They showed the courage and the heart that I think this team has displayed on a number of occasions. Obviously the mood today is a lot different than it was in the locker room yesterday at four o'clock, and the disappointment of winning that game but not being in the playoffs has settled in and so it's a bittersweet end to the season. But that's the way it is in the National Football League when you're 9-7. Some 9-7 teams are going to get in, and some aren't, and that's pretty much the way it is every year. For us to ensure our position, we needed to win another game, and that's basically the story. I've been in the league a long time and have seen a lot of season come and go, and I know from experience that for both myself and all the other people that I've observed in the league at kind of this point in time, I don't think the day after the season, or two days after the season, is really the time to make long term decisions for either an individual's future, or a team's future. So, with that being said, we're going through the process, it's beginning today, and it'll extend well into the off-season as a staff and as an organization to evaluate not only the year, but ourselves and players and everybody involved and try to find ways that we can do things a little bit better than we did them. Whether they be running the ball, defending the run, converting third downs, covering kickoffs, returning punts, whatever it happens to be, try to address each and every one of those things. Our teaching procedures, our scouting methods, our game plan installations, our training camp schedules, you name it, it'll all be talked about, evaluated, addressed and assessed to try to determine what things we can do better. That's the off-season process that starts today, and as I said we'll continue deep into it and believe me, no final or concrete decisions have been made by me or probably anybody else with regard to the future of the football team. I just don't think 24 hours after the game is the time to make them. Certainly there are a lot of things we've got to look at, but how they'll be resolved, that'll come in due course.

Q: In a few weeks, what are some of the things that will come to your mind about why this team, on a consistent level, wasn't able to play at a high level?

BB: I think that will be part of the off-season process, to try to determine that. What things can we do better, how can we do them better, how to strengthen our areas of weakness. Again, I can assure you it'll be done this year as it's been done in the past. We'll give it a real thorough look, and I'm not sure exactly what every answer to that question will be. I'm sure we'll have something.

Q: Will your philosophy about free agents change a little bit this off-season?

BB: Well, yeah, I think I know what you're asking. Let me just clarify that for a second though too. Our philosophy is to … What Scott [Pioli] and I have always believed in, and continue to believe in, is to try to add quality people and quality players to this football team. There seems to be a conception, or misconception, that we won't consider or sign anybody that makes a certain amount of money, or has a certain profile or whatever that happens to be. That simply is not a criteria for us. The criteria is to find people that'll help our football team, and if they can do it for the value, then we're interested. If the value is way above what we think it is, then that puts it in a different situation. That being said, you have the resources that you have and when you don't really have, which we haven't, significant cap space to even consider those options, then you don't even get into them because you're in a market that you don't have the resources to be in. Would we reevaluate our philosophy, yeah, I don't really think we would, because our philosophy is to be open minded, and it has been all the way though. I think you still have to be realistic too. What we're trying to do is find good football players and good people for the football team, and I don't think that's going to change.

Q: With all the coaching changes that are going to take place in the league, are you confident that you'll be able to keep your coaching staff?

BB: Well, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to keep the coaching staff intact. I recognize that we have a lot of good coaches on this staff and I'm sure that they're well thought of in other organizations. Whether that does or doesn't become an issue as things change in the league, as they do annually, then we will have to just wait and see. I think these coaches work hard, they're well prepared, they get the players well prepared, and I have a lot of respect for each and every one of them. Having said that, collectively as a staff, we're looking to do better too. I'm not saying it's perfection, or has been, or probably ever will be, it will always be an objective of ours, to strive for higher ground and to do a better job in that area. I think they do a very good job. I'm sure they're recognized by other organizations, I don't have any doubt about that.

Q: One year ago you got a lot of players through free agency. Is that just the cyclical nature of that business (non-production)?

BB: Well, I think you measure the draft after a couple of years down the road, some players develop quicker then others, some players have an impact sooner then others too. As we said many times before, the 2000 draft, [Tom] Brady didn't look like he was much, and turned out to be a decent player. Other guys start fast, and don't produce as much in later years, so I think it's hard to really evaluate a draft after one year, it takes a little bit longer then that. We'll see how that turns out. But it doesn't really make any difference, each year we're still looking to try to…

Q: Free agency is more of an immediate thing.

BB: Right no question, free agency, some guys are going to have an opportunity to contribute more immediately and in a lot of cases that's what you're looking for. At times you bring people in for depth, and sometimes those opportunities occur, and sometimes they don't when you're talking about depth. We've had some good producers in free agents; we've had other guys that haven't produced as well in our system as maybe they did in another one. That's not going to be abnormal, you want to be 100 percent and you want to be as close to high production as you can in that area, but we're not perfect there.

Q: What happened to Greg Robinson-Randall this year? How did he go from starting in the Super Bowl to where he is?

BB: Well basically Kenyatta [Jones] was ahead of him at the end of training camp.

Q: Well then Kenyatta got taken out.

BB: Those are your words, yeah.

Q: Well you took him out. It wasn't my decision. What happened?

BB: Kenyatta played the majority of the season at right tackle.

Q: Did you not deactivate him?

BB: Yeah, he didn't start every game, but the started the majority of them by far at that position.

Q: Are you saying he's better than Randall?

BB: Well, I'm saying he played better, we thought that he would play better this year, and that's why he was in there.

Q: Do you still feel that way?

BB: For which game?

Q: Well there are no more games.

BB: Well are you talking about for next year?

Q: Yes.

BB: As I said before, I'm not going to make any long-term decision the day after the season. We'll take a good look at the whole situation and do what we think is best for the football team at every single spot, right tackle, left tackle, every other spot.

Q: Can you talk about the injury to [Tom] Brady a little bit?

BB: He fell on the shoulder, I asked him about it, he was able to go back in there and throw and do what he needed to do. Just like a lot of the guys get hit in the game, come out, go back in, but I think he was able to throw effectively at the end when he needed to, so that was the bottom line.

Q: Is it going to require off-season surgery?

BB: No, I don't think so.

Q: Given the fact that the team was ranked 31st in run defense, is that the most glaring weakness?

BB: I think that's something that definitely needs to be addressed. I don't know about ranking them, but we need to play better run defense, we need to play better pass defense, we need to run the ball better, we need to throw it better, I think we can improve in a lot of areas of the game. Run defense is certainly one of them. No question.

Q: Did you throw the ball too much this year?

BB: Did we throw it too much?

Q: It was 605-390.

BB: I don't know. It's probably something to look at.

Q: You talked about one more game and you wouldn't have to worry about all these tiebreakers with one more win. Usually when a team is right on the cusp like that, do you look back and say, 'If the ball had just bounced for us in this one game,' because there weren't really any games like that this year. The three games that I can think of that could have gone either way, went your way. The two overtime games and the Chicago game.

BB: Well, I respect that point of view. I think our football team, now I'm speaking collectively, not only for myself, the coaches, the players, I think that we all felt that we could have, there were other games that were winnable for us. But we didn't play well enough to win them, and we didn't win them, so that's in the books, it's a matter of record. Our expectations were that we could have won some of those games, but unfortunately we didn't.

Q: (Re: the personnel situation, free agency and the draft to get back to the playoffs)

BB: I would just say that we'll look at every single one of those things in the off-season. We'll look at all of them. We'll look at our schemes, we'll look at our personnel, we'll look at not only the specific schemes on plays, but just general, overall, what the makeup of the team is and how we can improve it. What things are we facing, what are the most difficult things that we have to face, not through the whole season, but three or four times during the year we're going to have to look at a particular situation, and how can we address that.

Q: You don't look at a team now and say, 'Look at all that talent, they can't lose.'

BB: It depends on how you want to evaluate it, I'll say this though, every week we play a game, we look on the other side of the field and see some guys that are threatening and we've got to worry about.

Q: You don't see the Steelers of the '70s a Giant defense with [Bill] Parcells in the '80s.

BB: Yeah. Look, I don't know about comparing this team to some team in the '80s or the '70s or whatever. I do think there are some teams that we play, I'm not saying every week, but there are certain elements of certain teams that we play that are very good, and we respect that, and they're challenging for us. We've got to do the best we can to put ourselves ion the strongest position that we can, both personnel and schemes, the system we use from top to bottom. That's something we'll continue to try to do.

Q: Was there ever a point in the season where you recognized that there were flaws in the team that you couldn't correct this year?

BB: Well I think … When you go to training camp you see things, and from training camp all the way through to the early part of the season to the middle of the season, different segments there are things that you've got to address that other teams are obviously seeing as a weakness and they're attacking you with and you try to do what you can to shore those up. From a scheme standpoint, any time you strengthen your scheme you theoretically weaken it in another one, so you just have to pick where you want to move those players, and what assignments you want to give them. From a personnel standpoint you have some moves that every team makes during the year, some guys, younger guys come along, or a guy comes back, or you lose a guy, whatever happens you manage that on a week-to-week basis as you see fit. But from a scheme standpoint I think we have enough flexibility in our schemes to try to address different areas, but again when you address one, you're slightly weaker somewhere else. There's no way to strengthen everything with one move, and you try to minimize your downside, and address the areas that you feel like you're being attacked in, or that you feel weakest in.

Q: Did your team end up having more holes than you thought it would at the beginning of the season?

BB: I don't know how many holes I thought we had, and I don't know how many holes we have now.

Q: You're a realist, you won a Super Bowl a year ago, and you still knew that your team had holes …

BB: You try to improve your team every year. We tried to improve it last year, we'll try to improve it this year, I'm sure we'll try to improve it next year. You look at what the opportunities are, sometimes you have more opportunity to improve in a position, or in an area than others. There are plenty of times that you look at a situation and say, 'Well we'd really like to address this situation, what are our options,' they're not that great, even though you want to address it, sometimes you're not really able to address it the way you'd like to. That's the facts of life, it's not that you don't recognize it, but sometimes you don't or you can't.

Q: Is this a part of the season that you will look forward to? You've got draft choices coming, you've got free agency and possibilities to really improve your team.

BB: Right. As you know it's a very cyclical calendar that we're on. And that's what you're always doing at this time of the year. Some teams do it a week or two before the other ones do, but in the end everybody ends up doing it. It's a cyclical part of the process. At the end of the season you evaluate what you've done in the past, you look at what your options are, whether it be free agency, draft, or change your offense, or change you defense, and make those changes and then you get ready for mini camp, and then you get ready for training camp, and then you get ready for the regular season. That's an annual process, and you try to take advantage of that time and those opportunities, whatever they are, and try to maximize them. Sure, this is where you try to look at the different things that have gone on with your team both personnel and otherwise and try to address those.

Q: What were some of the good things you can take out of this season?

BB: Well, I think individually, and there were segments of the season and of the team that performed well above average. In the end it's the team and it's a bottom line business, and it's how the team performed that's really the measurement of the team. There are some areas that were stronger then others, some areas have improved significantly from last year, I'd say pass protection and kickoff return would be two that would be easy to identify. That's sometimes balanced off by regression in other areas.

Q: Did you see a lot of growth in the quarterback position?

BB: Yeah, I think that Tom [Brady] had some significant development, I sure do. The things that he handled the things that he was asked to do, and the offense, the expansion of the offense, and his role in it. I would say that he definitely grew.

Q: When you went to go out and try to defend an unexpected championship, do you think the players knew what they were in for in 2002, and how difficult it would be?

BB: I think that's a real good question. I would try to answer it and say I think the players understood that this year we were much more of a target then we were the year before and that people would be looking at our game as, maybe they would be more up, if that's the right word, or more focused on our game then maybe a comparable game or if we were in that game last year. Until you actually go through it and experience it, I'm not sure that you really know. Sometimes it's like talking to rookies that have had success in college and played and big schools and played in big games, and you talk to them about what it's like to play in the NFL and they think they understand, and they hear you and they're listening and they're trying to absorb it, but once they actually go through it it's a little bit different then what they actually thought it was. I think a team going through a season after a championship, even though you can verbalize it, and you can give examples, and you can talk about historically what it was like and so forth, until you actually live it and go through it, it's probably a little bit more profound when you actually experience it.

Q: Do you think 'Targeting September' was a great idea, or do you think mentally there may have been a letdown after they kind of had the September you had hoped for?

BB: I don't know. I thought we got off to a slow start the year before, and I thought that we obviously had some big games coming up early in the season and I thought it was important for us to be ready to go early in the season, and that's what targeting September was about, it was about getting ready to start the season. Maybe it was a mistake to get off to a good start during the season, I don't know, I'd have a hard time with that …

Q: I'm talking about the letdown that seemed to immediately follow.

BB: I know what the record says, and I know when you look down the scores of the games you know you win some and then you lose some, and then you win some and then you lose a couple, so it looks like a roller coaster there. I don't think I saw that on a week-to-week or game-to-game performance like maybe some other people did. there were games that we maybe played a little better in and lost, and there are probably other games that we didn't play as well in and won. Everything obviously gets measured by the final score and I understand that and that's why we're out there playing, but I didn't see the terms of the teams work ethic and performance and consistency on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. I guess I didn't see the roller coaster that maybe some other people did.

Q: Are there indications with the way your draft picks turned out, that would cause you to reevaluate the evaluation process?

BB: I think we're always looking to take a look, analyze what we've done. Whether it be free agency in terms of personnel, draft, veteran players, you name it. To analyze what was done, and how effective it was, and what the mistakes were and how to keep and prevent those mistakes from happening again, or how to correct them, or how to put more emphasis on the positive things and why they were positive. That's part of the process, there's no question about it. Some of the free agents were productive, and some of them weren't, so we all recognize that, what the expectations were, I'm not sure what yours were or what everybody else's expectations were, but clearly some were more productive then others, there's no question about that. That's part of our analysis and our evaluation and our self-analysis that we go through, because nobody else is going to do it for us. We've got to figure that stuff out ourselves.

Q: What did you learn from this process?

BB: Well the '87 season was a defense of the championship, after the second game, up to the second game after the strike, then it changed from there, so the season overall was maybe a little bit of an aberration, but I'd say from training camp to the second regular season game, fairly normal. That was a whole different team and a whole different situation. To answer the question directly, what would I do differently. I don't think it would have to do with the seasons after the championship, I think it would just be more specific towards individual games, individual plays, or individual situations that, 'I wish we would have been in this defense a little bit more, or we had put more emphasis on running this play instead of that play,' in certain games and in certain situations. As it turned out, we've shown that this isn't a real successful thing for us to do. I think I would look at it more that way. From an overall standpoint, I think that the team responded to the challenges competitively. We didn't win them all, but we responded competitively from start to finish, from the Pittsburgh game to the Miami game. I'm sure there were some ups and downs in there, I'm not saying it was perfect by any means, because it certainly wasn't, but competitively we tried to respond.

Q: You de-emphasized last year, and this week you took the trophy out. Could there have been more of a balance there in reminding the m what it took to get there?

BB: I guess there could have been, sure, there could have been.

Q: Why do you think it's so hard to repeat?

BB: It's a real competitive league, we can see that, every week games go into overtime, games go down to the wire. It's very competitive, why nobody's done it back-to-back, I'm not sure.

Q: Why do you think it's so competitive? Why has no one been able to rise above the pack?

BB: I think it's just what you said, it's how competitive the league is. Every week, each team is capable of beating the other team, it doesn't matter what their record is or who's favored, or what kind of winning streak or losing streak either one of them is on, generally speaking, each team is on a very competitive level and sometimes one team gets the better of the other one, and sometimes they don't. To this point it doesn't look like in the last few years any teams' been able to step up there and … Not that there aren't good teams, I'm not saying that, but nobody's dominated to level that you're talking about.

Q: You mentioned earlier how some areas can improve. Is ever there a temptation to perhaps, fix something that may not be broken? Is 24 hours too soon to look at everything? But when you go through the process …

BB: Yeah, I understand what you're saying. I think that's something you try to analyze as carefully as you can. Unfortunately I've seen that and been a part of that too, you have a bad year and all of a sudden everything's wrong. Let's change the things that actually we're on the right track on. I think we had a little bit of the sense of that after the 2000 season, that it was not a very good year, we had trouble in a lot of areas. And the natural reaction on a lot of things was, 'it isn't very good.' What we tried to do that year was to take the things that we felt like were our most positive things, hang onto those and try to improve the areas that we perceived as being the weaker areas. Now, not saying you always hit it right on the target there, but that's what you are trying to do, but definitely you have to be careful of that, you know, looking at something that actually is one of your strengths and not recognizing it for that and ultimately weakening that aspect of it too.

Q: Was [Christian] Fauria the closest gain to that target?

BB: Which target's that?

Q: What you said, how you target a position; obviously you drafted a tight end and brought in two.

BB: I think Christian had a productive year, a very productive year for us at tight end. I think Vic [Green] had a productive year for us at safety, there were guys that came in and were productive. I don't know about ranking them, again I'm not sure about that. I don't know if now's the time to do that anyway, but there were positions that we reproductive, there were others that weren't as productive.

Q: He seemed to be one of your better red zone options.

BB: He did a real god job in the red area and on the goal line, you bet. He had an outstanding year down there.

Q: Is there more to his game than in the red zone though?

BB: Well, I think that tight end is always an important position in the red area because he's close to the middle of the field and has more options, he can go inside or outside, ad you don't have a lot of room down there. The outside guys have, not that they can't be productive down there, but they have less space to work in, and when you can be effective running the ball in the red area, which for the most part we were, we were one of the best teams statistically on the goal line, and being able to run the ball inside the ten yard line, then that opens up the passing option to the tight end. He was able to take advantage of those and Tom was able to find him. I think the tight end's a good weapon to use on the goal line or inside the 10-yard line just because … Just from a strategic standpoint he's got a little more room to work in.

Q: Do you have any players that are injured, and if so will any of them require surgery?

BB: One of the things I'll do is to meet with the medical staff, the doctors and trainers, later on in the week and we'll go through and talk about any of those situations. Usually, in this time of the year, unless there's something that's just outstanding, normally what we do is wait about a week or so and get through the end of the season without going out to practice and let those situations resolve a little bit and see how urgent they are. Some of those situations are optional surgeries for the player. In other words, 'You play with this like it is, it's going to be a little bit painful, or we could do off-season surgery and take care of it,' some players elect to have the surgery, and some don't, and again that's a process that you go through after the season. So, it'd be hard for me to answer that right now without me misleading you to be honest with you, so it's something that'll run its course here as we go through this first week.

Q: How much flexibility do you have in terms of the salary cap and are you going to have restructure with other players?

BB: Well, those restructurings are all optional, optional decisions, well I shouldn't say that. In our case they would be optional, you could restructure them, or you could not restructure them, we're not in a situation where we're like my first year here, $10 million over the cap, where you have to restructure just to get under the cap. I'd say we have a little bit of flexibility, but again some of that depends on what personnel decisions we would make as we would move forward into the off-season. That new cap doesn't really kick in until March 1st, or somewhere right around there. So that's really two months to look at the situation, analyze it make whatever adjustments you wan tot make, whether it's restructuring or whatever it is, signing a player or agreeing to something, whatever you end up doing, that's really the time frame we have to get that in order. I would say, a little flexibility, I wouldn't say that we're totally hamstrung, but I wouldn't say that we've got a lot of latitude either.

Q: Two weeks into the season, people said there was no one that could stop this team, did you know that would come to an end or did you just hope to ride it out?

BB: Two weeks into the season is I think a little too early to know how it's going to go all the way through. There were some things I think we were doing well at that point in the season and the way it matched up against a couple teams, were those match ups necessarily going to continue and so forth, I think it's tough to make that call. I thought the Kansas City game, particularly defensively, was a game that we got exposed on some things and that was definitely a problem. It continued to be a problem in other games.

Q: Are you going to be taking any time off?

BB: Yeah, I'm definitely going to take a little bit of time to just not think about football for a little bit and try to start fresh. When you get to the end of the season, naturally the thoughts that are in my mind now are the ones that are most recent. The Miami game is a lot more in my mind than the Pittsburgh game. It's a lot more in my mind than the Oakland game. So, I think it's good to try to step back and wipe the slate clean, so to speak, and then address the season as a whole. Not that the Miami game isn't important, not that the Oakland game isn't important, not that the Pittsburgh game wasn't important, but in the end, try to look at the season as a whole and look at your team as a whole over 16 games and over the whole course of the season and not one specific game. At the same time, I think it's probably more important to look at the games that the team didn't do well in and try to identify what were the major problems in those games. Again, not to lose sight of the strengths that maybe helped you win the nine games that you won, but specifically to look at what were the problems that caused you to lose the seven games that you lost to help assess the overall season. So, yeah I will definitely step back and try to give the dust a chance to settle and then take a look and see what we've got.

Q: Do you think there is enough leadership on this team from the players?

BB: Yeah.

Q: Even with the loss of, like, Brian Cox in terms of personnel changes?

BB: I thought there was enough leadership on the team. It's just like everything else. Could there have been more? Coul

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