New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.
BB: We are a little bit ahead of schedule this week with yesterday's practice against Buffalo. We are in a regular Thursday today trying to get everything ready for the Bills. They are a very good football team. I thought they showed tremendous character and a lot of mental toughness as well as physical toughness in Denver last week. They got behind early, gave up 200 yards. They had minus yardage at that point when Denver had 215 or whatever it was. They came back, made a big stop in the red area and another stop at the end of the game to win. I think it starts as usual with Buffalo in the kicking game. They are as good as anyone we play on special teams. They are good at everything. They cover well. They have good specialists. They return well. They block kicks. They run fakes — a fake field goal for a touchdown against Seattle and a couple of fake punts against the Jets. They do a good job of moving the ball around on their kickoffs and punts, directionally kicking it and making it hard for you to handle. They are real good offensively, outstanding group of skill players [and] all of their receivers are good. They have two good backs, a big offensive line – biggest line in the league. They are physical. They run the ball well. They have a good compliment of tight ends and they use all those guys. Defensively, they continue to be a fast, aggressive team that turns the ball over. [They're] good in the red area, good on third down and as good as anybody who played in those third and medium situations and in the red area. They are right up there at the top of the league. They are good on short yardage so we have a lot to get ready for. Like I said, I think that Buffalo showed a lot of character against Denver and that's what we have seen from them. They are a tough football team. They play hard. I think Dick [Jauron] has done a good job of instilling that in their team. You can see it on the field. You can see it in the kicking game. That is usually the first sign of a team, when the competitive level drops, it usually happens in the kicking game first and it never happens in Buffalo. Their kicking game is outstanding. We have a lot of respect for them. It is going to be tough up there. Whatever the elements are we will try to be ready for them. We will keep working outside this week in preparation for that. That is where we are.
Q: It seems like a couple of Buffalo's running backs are tough to bring down after that first hit.
BB: Absolutely. We had a lot of trouble tackling them in the first game. The best thing to do, of course, is to have a couple of people around them so if one guy misses you have two or three other guys right there and you don't give up too many yards. They run hard. They are tough. They have good balance. They are quick. They break tackles. They avoid people. They have great run vision. I think they get every yard that is there and then some. [They're] excellent backs. They are excellent at breaking tackles and gaining a lot of yards on their own. They are good in the passing game, too. They catch the ball not just on screen passes but on other routes, option routes where they get a chance to get open and run routes against underneath coverage. They are very good. [Fred] Jackson returned punts earlier in the year when [Roscoe] Parrish was out, [he] did a great job there. So they are very multidimensional players. They run a little bit of their version of the Wildcat and of course they know Jackson can throw so they are multidimensional players.
Q: You can only control your game but you will need help from the Jets, what is your reaction to that?
BB: It's out of our control. Just worry about Buffalo.
Q: But how does that make you feel knowing that you will need their help?
BB: It makes me feel the same way I feel every week. What we can control we can control and that's our performance against Buffalo and that's what we are working on. Let everybody else worry about what they have to worry about.
Q: How are you going to keep track of the game once your game is over?
BB: I don't know.
Q: Are you going to keep track of it at all?
BB: I don't know. We are just concentrating on Buffalo. We are going out there and we are going to try to play the best we can against the Bills. That is our goal and that's really all we are thinking about. Whatever else happens, happens. I'm not saying it isn't important and I am not saying that we don't care, but that is not anything that we have any influence over. We will be rooting for whatever teams can help us, but if we don't do our job none of that stuff will matter. We have to do our job first.
Q: You said you will be rooting for any teams that can help you, so the Jets?
BB: Whoever can help us, that is right.
Q: So you will be rooting for them?
BB: I am rooting for the Patriots. Whatever helps the Patriots, I'm for.
Q: You mentioned that they have the biggest offensive line in the league, does that create special challenges? How do you combat that?
BB: Like every offensive line, you try to combat it by playing with good technique and playing with good position. They are big and they use their size well. They cover up defenders. They get on them and a lot of times the defender is in pretty good position, but he can't get off and make the tackle, or he is reaching for an arm tackle on [Marshawn] Lynch and Jackson and just can't get them down. They don't do a lot of pulling, but both their tackles are very athletic. [Jason] Peters and Langston Walker are very athletic. Peters is probably as athletic as any lineman in the National Football League. He has great size and tremendous power. He is a great football player. But they don't ask those big guys to pull, run and get out in space a lot. They will screen and pull from time to time, but they like to play in their area and make you go through them and they are hard to get through.
Q: Do you have any update on Richard Seymour?
BB: No. We will see how it goes out there today.
Q: Do you expect him out there today?
BB: We will see. I talked to him this morning and I know he is doing everything he can to be out there so we will give you our injury report after practice and let you know where things are at. I really don't know right now.
Q: Buffalo had success earlier in the year. What did you see with this team in the middle of the year? Was it injuries?
BB: No, they lost a couple tough games. They were in several close games. They lost on the last play against Cleveland, had the Jets beat two weeks ago, close game against Miami and in a close game against San Francisco. They were in a lot of close games. They won some of them; they lost some of them. But one play here or there and you could change their record by four or five wins, easily. What I see is a good football team. We have all won and lost games based on a play or two. The record is one thing, but if those one or two plays had gone the other way your record could look a lot different. They are very good in every area. They are playing hard. They are playing well and they show a lot of character. I think they have a lot of team leaders and a lot of high competitors on that football team.
Q: When you drafted Jonathan Wilhite this past spring did you envision him as playing more of a role as a slot guy right away and have you been surprised on is development on the edge in these last few games?
BB: Well, I think he has gotten an opportunity to do that. When we drafted him, we felt like he had the ability and the potential to play in this league. Whether that happened sooner or later or at some other pace, you never know that with a rookie. Based on the way he played at Auburn, very high level of competition, he played against a lot of good receivers in the SEC. He was very well coached down there by Will [Muschamp]. Will recommended him. Will has coached a lot of good football players both in college and at Miami. He knows what NFL corners are and he runs a pro system so the adjustments and the things he did at Auburn were very similar to what we would ask our players to do, in terms of making adjustments, recognizing things and different techniques. And you can see him do them. So it was a good evaluation and I thought from that standpoint he was ahead of most corners that would come out. Especially, some guys that played at smaller schools, maybe they only ran one or two coverages or it was all man-to-man. In addition to that, he played against a high level of competition. I think he's a good football player. He's tough. He's quick. He runs well. He has good ball skills. He has a lot of things going for him. And, how long is it going to take? How is it going to pan out? How is it going to come together? Nobody ever knows that in the draft. That's the draft. You just have to wait and see how it all comes together. But we all thought he had the ability and the overall makeup to play corner and play inside at the nickel position. That versatility worked in his favor as well. It added value for him in the draft and it adds value to our football team. And he has played well on special teams. All those things are positives and they were all positives coming out of college.
Q: When you look at all the contributions Matt Cassel has made this season, in what ways has he elevated himself in your mind or in the minds of everyone around the league?
BB: I am not sure what everybody in the league thinks. I can't comment on that, but I don't think anybody is surprised about what Matt's done. I don't think there is that feeling, but he is a guy that hadn't had a chance to play very much. As he has played, as he's continued to improve and continued to be consistent, I think that he's gained a level of confidence and the team has gained a level of confidence in him that, through no fault of his own, he just didn't have in the beginning of the year because he hadn't had the opportunity to do it. Once you have done it, gone out there and done the things he's done, it is just natural that he would feel more confident in doing them and all of his teammates would feel more confident in him doing them as well. Not that it was ever the other way, but it was more of, 'OK, he's had his chance to do it and he's done it.' I really don't think anybody at the beginning of the year felt like he just couldn't play. I don't know if there was some sentiment of that outside of this building, but I don't think there was any sense of that from the players and coaches that work with him.
Q: There seemed to be some element of uncertainty about what he could actually do when put in that situation.
BB: I don't think from the time he has been here that there is anything that he hasn't been able to do. Consistency, execution and doing it, that is something every player has to do every year. From the coaches, we've never felt like 'We can't run that play with Matt,' or 'We can't run this play with him,' or 'He's not very good at throwing these passes or those passes.' I felt like from the day he got here he has been able to make all the throws. He's athletic. He's smart. He is able to handle the things we give him in terms of audibles, adjustments and different formations. Like everybody else, he has to work on it. But I never thought that he showed he had a problem with any of that or that he couldn't do it. Some plays were better than others just like anything else.
Q: Before the 2000 draft, Dick [Rehbein] was saying what Tom Brady could do and recommending that he be considered. Was there anybody who had a role in enlightening you on Matt Cassel's potential?
BB: Again, it wasn't a whole lot to go off of. Matt Russell was the scout at that time and he scouted that area. He brought him up and we followed up with Pete Carroll and some of the coaches out there at USC and his spring workout. Then Josh [McDaniels] had several conversations with him, not just one but several to follow up on, evaluate his overall football makeup, retention, interests and so forth. Those were the main people involved. Of course, Scott [Pioli] was aware of him. I was aware of him, Nick Caserio and all those guys. We all saw bits and pieces, but those people spent the majority of time with him and — based on their recommendations, collectively, USC and following up with our scouts — that all came together. We all saw it pretty much the same way. This would be a great guy to have, work with and he has great potential. There just isn't much to go on. More than Steve [Neal], but still not very much to go on.