Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Friday, December 24, 2010.
BB: Did you get your Christmas shopping done? I just finished up mine this morning. You've still got some time.
Q: What did you get me?
BB: It's in the mail. So how are we doing, ready for Buffalo?
Q: The question is, are you?
BB: [We're] getting there, we still have got a little more time that we need today. [We] definitely need today to wrap up a lot of the situational stuff and try to pull it together but hopefully.
Q: [The Buffalo Bills] special teams unit has always been very good, is it still as good this year?
BB: Absolutely. They've got two outstanding returners, I mean, [C.J.] Spiller's been giving them a big lift and obviously you saw what he did against us. He missed a couple games in the middle of the season there and [Leodis] McKelvin did a great job too. [Terrence] McGee, we all know what he can do so it doesn't really matter who they put back there. The kickers are good. They've got good coverage units. I know [George] Wilson kind of leads the charge on that. They've got a lot of good guys. Yeah, they are solid and I think that's one of the most solid areas of their team.
Q: Yesterday a fan asked about Rob Gronkowski and whether his style of play might compare to Mark Bavaro's. How would you compare and contrast those two guys?
BB: There are some similarities.
Q: How so?
BB: Size, blocking, receiving. They have a little bit of the same body type and playing style. I think there are some similarities.
Q: Athletically would you give Gronkowski maybe a little bit of an edge there?
BB: I don't know. Mark [Bavaro] is pretty athletic. I'd say they are similar.
Q: Related to that, Tedy Bruschi joked earlier in the year about you still looking for the next Mark Bavaro. Do you kind of feel that you have found the next Mark Bavaro or do with the tight ends here have that ideal combination of good hands, good size and good in the red area? Is this maybe the best group you've had?
BB: I think these guys have a chance. Aaron [Hernandez] and Rob [Gronkowski] are young players that have a good future ahead of them. How that all develops we will have to wait and see. You know, Mark Bavaro, [we're] talking about a pretty good football player now. Guys that have played a few, less than 20 games, I think that's a little stretch to compare anybody to a guy like Bavaro, but Bavaro had a great career and he played against some of the all-time greats. He would line up against Reggie White twice a year. White's playing six technique, head up on the tight end and really doesn't get much help. You know that is a pretty big assignment, so, I think I'd be reluctant to put too many of anybody in Mark Bavaro's class. I don't mean that in any way to slight our players. I am just saying that you're putting the bar up there pretty high. He could block, he could catch, he could run, he could run after the catch. He was a great competitor. Mark was there every single week, that's a guy you can count on all the time. We lined up every year in training camp and he would block [Carl] Banks and [Lawrence] Taylor, and not too many guys [could] blocked them so talking about competitive battles, if you like football, that was about as good as you could find right there: Bavaro, Banks and Taylor squaring off. That was fun to watch.
Q: When you have a long streak of no turnovers. Nobody wants to be the player that ends that streak whether it is a quarterback, receiver, defensive back or anyone. Is that in the back of their minds at all?
BB: No, I hope it's in the front of their minds. I hope it's not in the back of their minds. I hope it's right up front. There is nothing more important than taking care of the ball, no matter who has it, whether you snap it, hold it, kick it, pass it, catch it, run with it. It doesn't make any difference. If you handle the ball it's a critical job for your team and we emphasis that every week. That's our number one thing offensively and in the kicking game and that is to take care of the football when you possess it, so nothing comes before that. That's a weekly goal. I think, just what the numbers are, I think that's a little misleading. We've had the ball on the ground, we've had it batted up in the air. I don't know, two, three times last week and defenders had their hands on it. The fact that [the ball] didn't turnover, I don't know that, that was a great play by us but sometimes your opponents don't take advantage of it. But the idea is to give them as few opportunities as possible. If you don't give them any, that's none that they can take advantage of. If they get them, you've got to hope that they miss those opportunities. We're fortunate that we've had a couple of those missed. I hope we don't give up any more [opportunities] because I don't think we will be that fortunate the next time.
Q: How much growth has [Sebastian] Vollmer experienced having started all of those games this year at right tackle?
BB: Well you know, some. I think he has marginally improved. He grew a lot last year. He was a good football player last year. He played against great competition last season and he has faced it again this year. I think he has improved, I don't mean it that way, but I think the jump that he made from the beginning of last year to the end of last year was a big one and was really outstanding. He has continued that this year. He's done a really consistent job for us and just been out there. A guy you can really count on doing a good job, every play, run and pass. He's been matched up on some tough players and he's done a good job against them.
Q: When you hear that Tom [Brady] has the flu or is getting sick, do you get startled and have to take notice or do you just have to deal with it?
BB: Whatever the situation is with any player's physical condition that's what it is. You work with it and work around it. You try to do the best you can to take care of everybody and unfortunately those are things that come up from time to time with any player. I don't think it is isolated to him. I don't think it would be any worse than the AFC Championship game at Pittsburgh. Tom is a pretty tough guy. He will do all he can to be ready to go just like he always does every week. I think we have a lot of other players that I put in that same category. Maybe at some point they can't make it, and if they can't make it they've done the best they can so that's all you can ask. [We'll] see how it goes.
Q: Circling back to Bavaro have you introduced Gronkowski and Hernadez to him?
BB: I haven't, no. I don't know if they have met him or not. I haven't done that.
Q: Have you ever showed them clips of [Mark Bavaro] in terms of blocking? It sounds like he is at least in the upper echelon of all-time blocking.
BB: No question. [Bavaro] is the upper echelon. He's not in it, that's it. At least the best I've seen. There's a lot of things that any player can learn from watching Mark play but again, the big thing about Mark was his overall consistency: his practice, his meetings, his preparation and how consistent he was as a player in everything that he did, whether it was catching balls after practice, working on his run-blocking, his pass protection, his route running. He and [Phil] Simms would stay after practice and spend a lot of time on various routes and certain coverages and just working on their timing. So they had a real good feel for each other. It is a tough position to play because you have a lot of things going on. You have guys in front of you, outside of you, inside of you coming at you from a lot of different angles and it's not like playing on the perimeter where you're dealing with a lot fewer people. At that position you have to release off of the line of scrimmage and you've got to get into your route, you have blocking adjustments to make against teams playing different fronts. There is a lot less variation the further out you get from the formation. Whether it be in the running game or the passing game, that's a tough spot to play. I would say Mark's overall consistency of all of the things he did well, and there's a lot of them, his consistency was outstanding. There weren't many plays that weren't good ones from him, whatever they were, [in] practice, show team, games, preseason, training camp, playoffs, it didn't make any difference. The worst play of his might have been the pass he dropped that [Phil] McConkey caught in the Super Bowl. That might have been his worst play.
Q: Did you read his book that he wrote?
BB: Yeah, I have read some of it, yeah. He's a sharp guy.
Q: A few of the defensive lineman talked about how they have learned a little bit in practice about all of the different spots along the defensive line. How much has that helped in that last few weeks with the injuries and things that you have had to deal with?
BB: It has definitely helped because you really get that background at the beginning of the year. It is hard in the middle of November to start teaching something new. You really want to have a good foundation and background for it and that starts in the spring and in training camp and in the preseason where you can not only teach it in the book or on the black board or in a walk-through but you can actually get reps at it, full speed with guys blocking, pulling, pass-protecting and really seeing things at the kind of tempo or close to it that they would have in the game. I think that's where that experience is especially valuable and certainly, that helps you over the long run whether it's particularly in the interior positions, offensive or defensive line being able to see that at a competitive tempo. Not just talking about it but actually seeing it happen at a fast tempo is a good learning experience. I think in the long run it also helps for the guy, whatever position he is playing, to know what the guy beside him is dealing with and that gives him a better understanding of where he is on certain blocking schemes; therefore, where I should be.
Q: Is this very real now what is at stake? You guys set goals for every season to maybe win the division...
BB: Yeah sure, there have been a lot of games, quote 'big games' this year. This is the first game where you know what and when in the game it will bring you. There is a lot at stake in every game, don't get me wrong. Now that there are so few games left we all know what would happen based on the outcome of certain games in the league and this is one of them. We know what this game would produce for us and sure that defiantly is one of our goals. Now you can start talking about it, it's not hypothetical anymore. We know what the results are and we have a chance to achieve a goal Sunday and hopefully we can do it.
Q: Dane Fletcher, when you guys picked him out of a small school you obviously saw something. I am wondering what that something was and how you picked him.
BB: I think Dane's a very unusual situation and it's a short list of players that have gone from being defensive linemen to being inside linebackers that I've worked with. Harry Carson would be one, [Tedy] Bruschi would be two and Dane would be a third example of that. Most of the time those guys go from being defensive ends in college to outside linebackers at our level, at our defense and you can go back to a whole- Chris Slade, Willie McGinest, [Rosevelt] Colvin, [Jermaine] Cunningham, [Tully] Banta-Cain. You can go right down the line, pretty much all of them were defensive ends in college. To take a defensive lineman and move him to inside linebacker position is a much bigger challenge, it was for Bruschi. Carson, Harry was already there when I got there but still that was a big adjustment to go from defensive lineman to a guy that has coverage responsibilities, formation responsibilities, just seeing the game from your feet and from depth as opposed to seeing it this far away from the guy across from you. It's a whole different ball game, there are not a whole lot of players that can see that. Dane has done a good job of it and he obviously has a long way to go. He's nowhere close to being a finished product but the progress that he's made from the spring to training camp to in the season has been significant and of course we thought enough of it that. He has contributed for us. He has done a pretty good job in the kicking game and as usual a good performance in the kicking game usually leads to more opportunities on offense and defense depending on what position the player plays, so it kind of works in reverse. Dane was good at the kicking game and he was active in the games that enabled him to get a bigger role on the defensive side of the ball. He's been able to capitalize on some of those opportunities. It's a very unusual situation for every one of those guys that you can project from moving down to moving to inside linebacker. For every guy that makes it, there is probably 100 that don't. Those are the three that come to mind and they stick out because it really is unusual.