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Bill Belichick Conference Call Transcript

New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his conference call on Monday, December 30, 2013.

BB: Again, as I said yesterday, it was a good team win for us – contributions in all three phases, contributions from a lot of people. The conditions were challenging but that's part of the game. I thought we dealt with them, not perfectly, but we took advantage of some opportunities and tried to do the best we could there. I thought our specialists in the kicking game – Danny [Aiken] and Ryan [Allen] and Steve [Gostkowski] – did an excellent job in those conditions. So, at this point now, we just have to turn the page, move ahead. I think there are certainly things we need to work on as a football team that if we get better in those areas it will help us going forward, until we specifically know who it is we'll be matching up against next. Again, there are still plenty of things on our football team that we can work on regardless of who we play and we'll try to address some of those this week.

Q: Does the layout of this week start with working on you first and then spending a half day on each of the three teams later in the week?

BB: Those are all real good questions. I don't know an answer to all of them at this moment. First things first, which is getting through this game and also to a degree the Baltimore game because that was another kind of quick week for us because of the Christmas holiday. We got out on the field on Tuesday instead of Wednesday so we never really cleaned up some things from that game. Then we'll have to, as you said, look ahead there. We have some familiarity with Cincinnati obviously but not with Kansas City and not with Indianapolis, at least not this year. We'll have to try to make some determination as we get later into the week as to how to organize the preparation and so forth. But I'd say for right now, our focus is really just trying to get through the Buffalo and as I said, even to a certain extent the Baltimore game and make sure we take care of what's in our house and do the best we can to, regardless of who we play, get some things straightened out and adjusted. Then at some point we'll turn and look toward our next matchup. But we're really not going to know who that is until Sunday night. We can maybe do some preliminary work but there's a good chance that if we work on all those teams, as you mentioned, then two-thirds of it is going to be, I don't want to say a waste of time, but a waste of time for the moment. We'll just have to try to figure out how to make the best of our opportunity with that time. I think it starts with just the Patriots.

Q: Without getting into specifics of the injury but Logan Mankins left the field, looked pretty banged up but was back out and missed just one drive. Tom Brady said he was second to none in terms of toughness. Did it surprise you at all that Logan was back on the field as quickly as he was after seeing him go down in pretty decent pain?

BB: Yeah, I think it did. Yeah, first of all, I agree with Tom in terms of toughness. I've coached a lot of tough guys. I don't think there's any that I would put ahead of him; maybe some on that level but none ahead. Anytime Logan needs help getting off the field, you feel like it's something serious. Usually he ends up just staying out there but for him to need assistance getting off the field was definitely a concerning moment. Then when [head athletic trainer] Jim Whelan came back and told me, as you mentioned, after the next series that Logan was back, I was a little bit surprised to hear that. He's a tough individual, tough-minded, physically and mentally tough. I think we have a lot of that on our team but certainly he along with really all of our captains – Tom has a lot of toughness and obviously Logan and [Matthew] Slater has played all year, most of the year with the broken thumb and all that. Devin [McCourty], Rob Ninkovich, they're all very physically and mentally tough guys. They've given us a lot of leadership and a lot of toughness but Logan certainly gave us a lot yesterday. It was an incredible performance.

Q: Rob Ninkovich made a couple of key stops yesterday, one of them on fourth down and the other one a sack late in the game. Can you take us through both plays? It seemed like the first one there was a lot of anticipation on his part and I'm guessing the second one was just the work of all those guys up front but can you expand on those and what they meant?

BB: The fourth-and-1 stop was a huge play. He did it last week in the Baltimore game too. Rob's a very experienced and instinctive player. Sometimes players like that just make great plays and other times they kind of play the percentages and do what they need to do what they need to make the play. Maybe it's not quite the way it's drawn up in the book, but it's the gamesmanship that's on-field situation awareness. There's just no price for that. It's not necessarily something you can coach, it's just more of an instinctiveness that a player has and Rob is a very instinctive player. He's made a lot of plays for us since he's been here, on both defense and in the kicking game. He has a good feel for how to play the game and he's made some big plays for us in crucial situations. We had to be aware of [Thad] Lewis getting out of the pocket and Rob did a good job of containing him, staying with him, not giving him that space to get away and as you said, making the sack there when it was a one-score game. He's been a good player for us for several years and just continues to do a lot of little things, sort of I don't want to say unnoticed, but a little bit of an unsung type of thing. He just steadily plays consistently in the running game, the passing game, situational football. He's just a very dependable guy and a good football player.

Q: On Logan Mankins, sometimes adrenaline can pull a player through. Does the fact that he returned lessen the concern going forward on his availability when you guys are back out on the field?

BB: I don't really have anything, I don't have any information on the going forward part of it. That's always part of the whole post-game process, which we'll see how all of that plays out. I just can't say enough about the performance that he gave us yesterday, especially after being helped off the field. We'll just have to see how all the rest of it materializes, I really don't know.

Q: When you get a day like that where it's so wet and you have a back like LeGarrette Blount who is a little bit bigger and runs with a body lean, is that sort of the type of day that is suited to a player that runs with his type of style? You mentioned it was a running-type game, but more specific to his style of running.

BB: I think that there are a lot of different players, a lot of different style out there. You take a player like C.J. Spiller on the other side of the ball who is as quick and nifty and as good of a change of direction back as there is in the league and he was still pretty effective doing that – skipping outside, bouncing plays out, plays that you might think aren't maybe ideal for those kind of conditions but it put a lot of pressure on the defense and we had trouble with it. LeGarrette brought a little bit of a different style in terms of downhill power. He slipped a couple tackles but he ran through a lot of them too. I think a lot of it just gets down to fundamentals: body lean, as you mentioned, and just good fundamentals of running including ball protection, body lean, trying to keep the tacklers from getting to your legs and keeping those moving, playing with a low center of gravity and good forward body lean and ball security. LeGarrette did that on a number of occasions, both offensively and in the kicking game [with] those kickoff returns. He's a hard guy to tackle in good conditions but when everything is wet – when he's wet, when the tacklers are all wet and they can't grab onto anything – tackling can be very challenging those conditions. Not so much because of the footing, although that's part of it, but the actual tackling sometimes is like trying to tackle, hold onto something that's all greased up. It's just hard to get a grip on it.

Q: From the outside, it's easy to declare the 'prize free agents' but for you guys there have been a number of players, whether it's Chris Jones and Joe Vellano at defensive tackle, Julian Edelman with 100-plus catches and LeGarrette Blount being cast off after his final year in Tampa, were key contributors. In some ways, is that a gratifying part of your job – coaching players whose outside perception might not align with your perception internally and seeing them succeed?

BB: First of all, I'd say a lot of the names that you brought up – it's interesting because there are a number of different ways you can acquire players and build your team in the offseason. I think that pretty much covers it, some of the guys you mentioned – draft choices, college free agents that weren't drafted, waiver wire players like Chris Jones, trades like LeGarrette, veteran signings, offseason signings or re-signings in the case of Edelman. Those are all ways to build your team. I think in the offseason what we try to do with the coaching staff and [director of player personnel] Nick Caserio and his personnel staff is we just try to build the team. It's so hard to know how it's all going to turn out. You have some kind of an idea of what the player can bring to your team, but how it's all going to turn out and how the team is going to come together and nobody really thought when we were putting the team together that we would lose our top three defensive tackles, with [Vince] Wilfork and [Tommy] Kelly and [Armond] Armstead before the season started. Those kind of things are unexpected and you just have to react to them along the way. Of course it's good to see that guys that you've brought in have been able to fit in, not all of them obviously, but some of them have been able to fit in and contribute. It's a long process and one that takes a lot of different twists and turns. It's hard to tell sometimes where players will come from. Or guys like Justin Green, who is on the practice squad all year this year most of the year. A guy like James Develin who was on the practice squad all year last year, or most of it anyway who has been a key contributor for us this year. A lot of time you see growth in those players, like we saw in [Tom] Brady from his rookie year to his second year. What guys are one year and what they are the next year, certainly Julian this season, his production is more than all the other years combined probably. You just never know how all that is going to turn out. It's a long season. There are a lot of twists and turns that come in there. On the other part of it, I really can't worry about what everybody else thinks outside of the organization because those opinions are very wide. Some people think some things are good; some people think they're bad. Whatever it is, it doesn't make a difference once we make a commitment to a player or a position or a situation, then we try to let it play out until we feel there's the need to change that decision, whether it's to move on or bring somebody else in or accelerate that player in his role. I just can't be concerned with what everybody thinks because there are some many opinions out there. There would be no way to satisfy them all anyway. I just don't want to spend too much time worrying about that, in all honesty.

Q: What's your take on the four fumbles by your team yesterday?

BB: It was too many. Obviously it was a tough day with the ball handling but our goal every week is to not turn the ball over and to not fumble it, to not have it intercepted, to not have kicks blocked – all those things. It's all about ball protection and even though the conditions were difficult our expectations are still that we do that. We had some situations where that wasn't the case and we're lucky it wasn't more costly than what it ended up being. We had some very fortunate recoveries on a couple of the balls that were out that you can't really count on but they were fortunate. The interception was another ball in a tight space that we couldn't handle that they eventually did. Those are really the five plays that we allowed them to expose the ball and they only got it once but it could have been worse. Had those turnovers occurred, we might not be talking about the same kind of outcome that we had. We're fortunate to get away with those, no question.

Q: It seems like in the past two-and-a-half years, you haven't gotten the results you wanted in the kickoff return game on a consistent basis. What did you see yesterday that made that different from what we've seen over a fairly extended stretch of time, if you think that's a fair statement?

BB: I think it's fair. I can't argue with that. Last year, we had the kickoff return by Devin [McCourty] and then really not much else in that game, in the Jets game. That was a huge play in that win. Throughout the year, it was not nearly the productive level that we'd like it to be. That's been a little bit of the case this year. As usual, I would say it's a number of little things, not little things but little things. They've got 10 guys covering and you really only need to miss one block and you can have six, seven, eight good blocks but you miss one or you get picked and something happens and then you end up with nothing to show for possibly other parts of the play that look pretty good. I thought yesterday on the second return Nate Ebner had a great block. He cross-blocked on the front line and had a knockdown and that guy fell into somebody else and one of the other Buffalo players kind of tripped over him and all the sudden there was some real space there. I thought that [Matthew] Slater on that did a good job of kind of being the escort, personal protector type of guy for the returner. He had a couple key blocks to spring him. Of course, the returner is always a key guy there. LeGarrette [Blount] did a good job of running. On the first one, I think it was, where he got outside of [Chris] Hogan, he kind of bounced it out and showed a lot of speed up the sideline and then he broke a couple tackles there at the midfield to add on another 15, 20 yards, whatever it was. The combination of creating space on the return, good running by the returner breaking a tackle or making a guy miss, that type of thing, it all kind of happened on the couple plays. I think that's fairly common on a lot of big returns. You'll see there's one or two blocks that are really difference makers and then the part of the play by the returner, whether it's breaking a tackle or making a guy miss or sometimes you get a second effort or a second block where one player ends up getting two blocks, whether he knocks one guy into another one or he blocks a guy and then hustles and gets it a second block downfield. You need something along those lines usually unless it's just a total breakdown by the coverage team, you usually need one of those elements to create a big return, either part of it in the run or a block or kind of a two-for-one block or a block that really, really separates the coverage. On those two returns, I think those are two of the elements that came into play. Of course, it's always about good ball handling and no penalties. Penalties of course can negate any good play. I think that's been overall strength for us in the kicking game. We haven't had a lot of penalties so even though, as you said, the return production hasn't been at the level we would like it to be, we also haven't had a lot of penalties where we lost field position. Yesterday we were able to continue to eliminate those penalties but actually create some running space for the returners.

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