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Bill Belichick Press Conf. Transcript - 12/13/2002

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BB: Today is a red-area, goal line, short yardage type day. Tennessee defensively has had three big goal line stands this year. I think it really played a major factor in them beating, of course, Cincinnati, it was fourth and goal on the one and they stopped them. They had Indianapolis fourth and goal on the one in the first game and stopped them. Then, of course, they made their goal line stand against the Giants a couple of weeks ago, which led to the field goal, and they came back and tied it up and won in overtime. I think that's really indicative of not only their defense, but also their whole team, that they play real good situational football. They're competing on every single play. You can't take anything for granted with this team. Whether it is the lateral throw back in the Buffalo game a couple of years ago in the playoffs. Or (Steve) McNair driving the team on a couple of come-from-behind victories this year or whether it's their goal line stand on the one-yard line. That's just the way they play, that's the type of team they are. Again, it's really going to be a big challenge for us, Monday night, they're a good football team. They are well coached and they do a lot of things well.

Q: One of the similarities you have with Jeff Fischer is you both were head coaches of a team when they were relocating. Have you ever talked with him about that? It's a rare link.

BB: Yeah, it is. The one difference is he relocated with his team and I didn't relocate with mine. (Laughter) They relocated without me.

Q: But you still relocated though.

BB: Yeah, I relocated too. That's right. I feel like Jeff and I, even though we never worked together, we do have a lot of, I'd say, things in common going back to the NFC East with Philadelphia and New York. Then Cleveland and Houston. I've talked to him about a lot of things. I feel real good about out relationship that we have had through the years. I remember when (Jack) Pardee left in Houston and Floyd (Reese) was the General Manager down there. I remember him calling me, I was at Cleveland at the time, and saying, 'What do you think about the coaching situation?' And I said well, 'I don't know how you can do any better than what you've got right there.' Jeff was kind of the… I think he was the interim coach for a couple of games. I said, 'I don't know how you can do any better than that. Jeff has played the game, he's coached the game, he's been a coordinator, he's proven himself in a couple of different organizations, he's a solid guy, I don't know how you can do any better than Jeff Fischer.' I'm not saying he kept him because of that, but I felt that way about him 10 years ago and I think he's really done a good job. We've kind of exchanged views and I think (we've) had a good relationship along the way. But I haven't really looked at it from the relocating standpoint. I think that is one of the things we didn't talk about. Maybe that will come up at the owner's meeting or something one of these days.

Q: Has that experience at all shaped you as a head coach? Do you feel like going through that has made you better?

BB: Well, I think that it's something that I don't want to go through again. I feel pretty confident that it's not going to be the case here. That's one of the things I like about being with the New England Patriots. I don't think this team is going anywhere.

Q: Technically the playoffs don't start until three more regular season games are over. But it seems like with the way that the league is this year like there are already playoff games. If you talk to players, it certainly looks like it's going to have a playoff feel to it. Record wise, in the league is this really like a playoff game?

BB: Sure. I think there is a lot of truth to that statement. I would just say that the one difference is in the playoffs there is no second opportunity. I'm not sure that any team in the league that loses this week is necessarily out of the playoffs. Nobody is going to help themselves by dropping a game this week. It's so close. There are still some other games left to play. There are probably some other possibilities that can happen. There's no question as you get deeper into the season and you are down to the last three, two, one games, there are going to be certain scenarios at the end of the season where a team is either going to win a game to get into the playoffs and if they don't win it they are out of the playoffs and that is playoff people. There are definitely some elements of that kind of really do or die type of games. I've been asked earlier in the year, you know, fifth week of the season, if there are must games. Well, all games are important but you are not eliminated the fifth week of the season very often. Whereas you are getting to the point now, and I am not sure that it would be this week, and whichever team wins whether it's us or Tennessee, somebody will do themselves a lot of good by winning. I am not sure that the loser will be eliminated. But it just will make it a little bit tougher for whatever team has that sixth loss.

Q: Interesting in that, this is a game where two teams both know they have to hold on to the football, which is also kind of a playoff football game. They like to posses it, you like to have the long drives, so it's kind of an interested side light. You give it up and as a coach you must say, 'When are we going to get it back?'

BB: Right. Games like this, field position and turnovers will be big factors. I mean, you have to think that going into the game. They will be big factors. You are right. Tennessee leads the league in time of possession and they do a good job of a) running the ball and getting into third and convertibles and then they do a pretty good job on third down and converting their third downs, whatever it is, 45 percent of them (They are) one of the best teams in the league at that. They do a good job of staying on the field. And of course with them, like we've talked about with some other teams this year, they are a problem because they can run it on third down, the quarterback can run it, so it's like having a sixth receiver. Then they have a lot of good receivers/tight ends, backs, they can all catch the ball and make plays for those possession type situations. So they've got good skilled players to do it and they are good at it.

Q: Down the stretch last year a big part of your season was the running game. Can you evaluate Antowain Smith? Has he given you what you expected?

BB: Yeah, I think Antowain has played real well the last, I'd say, four to six weeks. I think he is running it hard. He is getting good extra yardage. He's done a good job for us in short yardage and goal line situations which are, again, the key to staying on the field or getting those points when you get down there. I think he has been real solid. (He) caught the ball well coming out of the backfield. I think if his production can be at a consistent level like it has been, that's obviously going to really help us. But I think he's played consistently well, picking up the blitz, catching the ball, running the ball, making tough yardage and short yardage situations. Those have been real good positives for us.

Q: Is that to say that there is an improvement from the first five or six?

BB: I think he has been more productive the last, you know, four, five, six weeks. I'd say overall he's probably been a little more productive on a consistent game-by-game basis. No, I'm not saying he wasn't productive earlier in the year. He was productive in several of the games we had earlier in the year, Kansas City, the Jets. I would just say in the last five or six weeks, I think it's been real consistent and not just running the ball. Running, catching, blitz pick-up, all of those things.

Q: It goes to say also for the last three games, you've got two at home, inclement weather could, I guess, play a part in that, so obviously he is going to be relied up more.

BB: Home or away, good weather or bad weather, I think at this time of year, controlling the ball, being able to a) not turn it over and b) keep your offense on the field so that you are minimizing the opportunities that your opponent has and where they get the ball. Those things are critical in these types of games. A good running back and a good running game is obviously a big key for that.

Q: Do teams that have running quarterbacks tend to see a lot more man-to-man defense?

BB: I think they see a combination. A lot of teams defensively play what they're going to play, so you play a team like Denver, or St. Louis, Tamps, those teams are going to play cover-2, it doesn't matter whether your quarterback runs or doesn't run. That's what they do, Miami, they're going to play man, and then change up, and play man, that's what they do. I think other teams that have, let's say more of … I'm not saying one's better or worse than the other, but teams that have more of a multiple scheme, then I think they probably take a look and see how they match up inside, what things they want to select from, to plug in against that offense, with the quarterback being part of the equation, but there'' more than the quarterback you have to account for, but certainly he'd be a significant part of the equation. And when you play man coverage, you are a little bit exposed if the quarterback runs, 'who's got him,' because everybody's got their back turned trying to cover their guy, so that's an issue.

Q: There are a lot teams in the AFC including yours that are going to be fighting probably right down to last week to determine what happens in the post season. Whereas, right now, take Green Bay for example, they have qualified already and they have few weeks to go where they are not going to be in that playoff quest, other than to perhaps improve their position. Does it help the team more? Does it help to have been in that kind of mode all along?

BB: Well, I think you could probably make good or bad out of any situation, the main thing is number one, to get into the playoffs, so the teams that have secured playoff berths, they've got to be happy about that, then they know they're in the post season. If you look at the AFC there's a lot of teams there, and you could make arguments for probably a bunch of them … More than there are playoff spots, let's put it that way, but they can't all get there, so those teams that are playing those tough games, and are fighting it week after week and all that, that don't end up in the playoffs, that's where you come up short. So, I think you always like to be in, and you like to start preparing your team for the post season as soon as possible, but there's no question that plying tough games gets you ready to play tough games too. So, I think it can work both ways.

Q: Is there any kind of edge that you see?

BB: I think at that point in the season, it's a lot more important what your team does going forward, the preparation, the … your teams approach to the game, I'm talking about their attitude and their approach to the game, their ability to execute whatever the conditions are. When you've been through 16 games, I don't think you can play 16 games in this league without having some of the kind of games you're talking about, maybe you have them in September, maybe you have them in November, maybe you have them in December, but at that point you're teams been experienced in the overtimes, the fourth quarter ahead and the fourth quarter behind, and all that kind of thing. I think at that point it's more important where your team is moving forward then what the results of the last couple of games are.

Q: I am not sure if you have had time to assess Maugaula Tuitele's situation and the number of times he's been here and not been here. Can you speak to maybe his persistence that he is here at this time of the season?

BB: I talked to him about it when he came back, I saw him Tuesday in the weight room, we talked a little bit about it. I think the thing for him is he's looking for an opportunity, and this is one. For him, he's got to try to do the best he can to take advantage of this opportunity, maybe there will be another one, maybe there won't, it's too unpredictable to look into the crystal ball in this league, but I think the thing that Ula has shown is that he's continued to work hard, get better, the things that we've asked him to improve on, he's worked hard to improve on. He went to Europe last spring, I think [he] got some good experience there, was able to use that in training camp, to push himself into a higher level of play. Ultimately it didn't work out, but we all saw that level, and I think that he's got to, I think he will, but I think his approach needs to be to continue to move that level higher up the ladder, and if he keeps working hard and he continues to work technique wise and fundamentally on some of the things that he can improve, then hopefully that'll be what happens. There's no question, in terms of sticking to it, I can't think of too many guys that have stuck to it like he has, and some of his back and forth has been a little bit circumstantial, I mean it's certainly not a real reflection of him, it's sometimes more of a reflection of the situation that we're in and how we have to adapt and adjust to that situation, as opposed to being a Tuitele decision, it's more of a Patriots decision, and he's kind of a guy that becomes a part of another decision, let's put it that way.

Q: When you were forced to make the cut, at what point did he make the cut, and how far down?

BB: I'd say right down to the last day. And I remember sitting up there with him in Scott's [Pioli] office, and saying, 'look we don't know what's going to happen here, but it's a long season, we fully expect to see you back here at some point in time, it could be later on this week, it could be later this month, it could be … who knows.' Nobody can foresee the future in this business, but he's a guy that you like and you like a lot of things that he does and there are other players in that category too, you can only keep 53, you like 58, five guys can't make it, but you're not really trying to get rid of those five guys, you're just cutting down to the limit that the rules put you at. But at some point they could factor right back for you, I mean Chris Hayes is another example, so those kinds of things I know from experience, and we talk to the players about that too, hopefully there's a good level of trust there between the organization and the players that we are working together, things do change, and just because you're released doesn't mean you're not wanted, it just means that right now, there's not a seat on the bus for you, but at some point hopefully there will be, and we want you to be there.

Q: Is there a danger for a player like him? Is it almost like he's damaged goods emotionally?

BB: Well, I don't know about that, but I think that some players look at it differently, I think some players look at that situation and some point they just throw up their hands and say, 'I just can't find a home, I can't keep going through this, two weeks here, two weeks there, and just continually be in perpetual motion and never have a place that I can call my home.' Certainly I think that we all can understand that frustration, and especially when things happen that maybe aren't necessarily directly their fault, or they're not involved in, they're part of some other player movement, and they end up getting moved around. You look at a guy like Tommy Maddox, and three years ago we could have said that about him, and now look at where he is. I think there are always going to be those guys that continue to persevere and compete and stay with it, and for some of them it's going to work out, and those are heart-warming stories. And unfortunately there's going be some that it won't work out for, and that's … Fred Coleman was another one last year when he came back, and who knows what his future is, he could be the next Tommy Maddox, or maybe not, but there are a lot of guys just in or out of the league like that, and one of the things that really effects that is just the whole practice squad rule which is, a player's limited to two years on the practice squad, so once his practice squad eligibility is up, then as an NFL team you're forced to make one of two decisions, either he's on your team or he's off your team, there is no holding spot for him like there is on the practice squad. So, once the player has used up his eligibility, then …

Q: Does that just apply to your team, or every team in the league?

BB: Practice squad?

Q: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, it's two years, two years in the league, so if a guy's on another teams practice squad for a year, and then ours for a year, he's done. That spot has to go to another player who has less time than that.

Q: When you called him, where was he?

BB: You know, Scott [Pioli] called him, I didn't see him until he got here, so I think he was in Colorado, I'm not sure. Was he in Colorado?

Q: That's what he told us.

BB: Yeah.

Q: How has Larry Izzo done this season, his role has increased in the last few weeks.

BB: Good. I mean Larry's … If I was going to say to a rookie player, 'what's a pro,' just put Larry Izzo's picture up next to it, there's a pro. Everyday he's well-prepared, ready to go, whatever you ask him to do he's going to know what to do, not only know what to do, know how to do it, be able to communicate to the other players he's involved with, so that it can be executed on a team basis, and he's going to do it pretty well. As well as he can do it, and that's every single day, it doesn't matter whether it's middle linebacker, [weak side] linebacker, goal-line defense, sub-defense, kickoff coverage, punt return, he's always ready to go.

Q: He's listed as a linebacker but people get the notion that he's a special teams player.

BB: Yes, I think that whenever we decide to use him, I think that everyone's confident that he'll be able to go in and do what we ask him to do. I think that Larry's an outstanding special teams player, he's one of the best special teams player sin the league. I'm not saying he's Lawrence Taylor as a linebacker, but I think he can go in and play, and play on a good competitive level, and play well. He did a great job for us against Detroit, and the thing about Larry that I think, that not only I respect, that the coaches respect, and the players all respect is that he's consistent and you can count on him, he's very, very dependable. So when he's had to go in there, or when we've asked him to go in there, he's gone in there and he's done a good job. Whether it's preseason, or any other time.

Q: What type of impact does the rookie defensive tackle, [Albert] Haynesworth, what kind of impact has he had on their defense?

BB: Tennessee has kind of a rotation system on their defensive line, and nobody really plays the whole game. Haynesworth's been working in there and he's been getting snaps, been playing every game. He's a big kid that's strong, physical, he can run well, he's a good athlete, like any rookie it's experience and technique and seeing things multiple times, and reacting to them as quickly as you need to in there, but there's no question the kid's big time talent and he'll be a good player. He's contributed well for them in the role that they've asked him to contribute in, but hey all roll through there … You look at the film and you have one set of numbers, and then you go a couple plays later and you have another set of numbers, and it's hard to really … They all play pretty good, it's hard to really tell when … It's not like they have a first team and a second team, it seems like they all contribute and play considerably and they do a good job. And whether it was [Carlos] Hall stepping in there for [Jevon] Kearse, or right down the line.

Q: You closed defensively strong last year, do you see some similarities to last year as a coach?

BB: I really haven't though too much about last year, I'm thinking more about our progress this year from some of the games there, October, early November games, Kansas City, San Diego, Miami, Denver, Green Bay, things that in those games where we started to make some improvements from that point and I think that we've played better team defense, say in the month or five weeks since that group of games, that we've improved some things there. So that's really what I've been most concerned about, our red area defense has been a little bit better, our third down defense has been up and down, but overall I think it's been a little bit better, our run defense has been a little bit better, we've had more turnovers in the last month or so then we had during that stretch. So, I think some things are improving from there, I'm really trying not to worry too much about what happened a year ago, but more what our trends are this year, and how we can continue to work to improve them.

Q: And it's going the right way?

BB: Well, it's not perfect. It's not like we're holding teams to 110 yards of total offense, but neither is anybody else in the league. But I think that is has improved form that stretch there from the end of September to probably the middle of October or end of October or whatever it was, there were too many holes. I think that we've slowly but surely, started to fill some of those and things are less of a problem now then they were then, and that's enabled us to concentrate on other areas instead of always feeling like we're backpedaling, 'we go to fix this, we got to fix this, we got to fix that, we got to fix something else.' More things are under control, which is allowing us, as a team, defensively, to be a little bit more aggressive, to move forward, to start building on a better base, rather than, just try to patch form week-to-week, so it's … from that standpoint I think it's a little bit better.

Q: This is kind of an offbeat question.

BB: That's all right, throw those in there.

Q: In the event of a doomsday scenario and you lose all your quarterbacks, who do you throw in there to take the snap?

BB: Who would our fourth quarterback be?

Q: Yeah.

BB: It would probably be Kevin Faulk.

Q: Would you require him to throw the ball?

BB: Well, obviously it'd be on a limited basis. I think anytime you get down to taking a player from another position, and moving him to quarterback, then you're cutting down your package, you'd have probably four to five running plays, four to five pass plays, and you'd just be trying to manage the game and get through it, you wouldn't try to run an extensive offense at that point, and that's really what you'd be looking at. Fortunately I haven't been in that situation very many times, but the couple times that it comes up you're just trying to get through the game. Now when you get to the following week, I don't think you can go into the game with Kevin Faulk, or whoever, Cam Cleeland, or somebody playing quarterback. You'd go out and get, if you had to, you'd go out and get a quarterback, somebody that could play the position. So the reality of it would be, if you ever got into that kind of emergency during the game, here's the short list that you would have that player, you know, the four to rive runs, the four or five passes, and you'd just have to do the best you could with what you had at that point.

Q: Does he ever go to the quarterback meetings?

BB: No, the position players all go to the position meetings, but, in training camp and at certain points during the season, bye week might be one, sometimes you just take a ball-handling period and review it whether it's once a month, or once every six weeks, or that kind of thing, 'but these are the handful of core plays that you would have.' Sometimes it could be … with the Giants, (Dave) Jennings, he was our punter, so every once and a while you have the guy take a couple plays, or say we get into a game like … I think against Pittsburgh, he played, Kevin played some quarterback, simulating Kordell Stewart, so they're not our plays but they're Pittsburgh plays where at least you're getting some ball-handling, quarterback to center exchange and all that. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

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