It was an eventful weekend for the Patriots but the team was back in Foxborough ready to get back to work on Monday as they prepare for Saturday's divisional round showdown with Tennessee.
Even though the team finished up its work last Thursday before getting some rest during the bye week, the Patriots dealt with a story detailing a rift between Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Robert Kraft, causing the team to issue a statement and Kraft to offer specific denials of various parts of the article. There was even a report out of New York that indicated Belichick may have his eyes on the vacant New York Giants post, so Monday's conference call with the coach wasn't just limited to Titans talk.
Belichick had a common theme in his answers to most of the questions that dealt with the ESPN piece that caused the stir – "I haven't read the article" – while falling back on the team's statement.
He was clear about one element of the weekend rumors, however. Belichick was asked if he intended to definitely be back with the Patriots next season.
"Absolutely," he stated simply.
Otherwise, the coach wasn't look to fill in any pieces.
"I haven't read the article. I've already commented at length about that situation. Nothing has happened since then, so I don't have anything to add to it," he said before he was asked to comment about another specific element of the story.
"Well, first of all, I don't really know what you're talking about. I haven't read the article, so I don't know what that refers to," Belichick repeated. "We've been through this before and I know you want to report on things that are inaccurate and unattributable and I'm not really interested in responding to all of those random and, I would say in a lot of cases, baseless comments."
He was more than willing to discuss the Titans and did so at length. Derrick Henry, who led the Titans to their upset win in Kansas City Saturday night with 154 yards rushing, was a hot topic during the morning briefing. Also among the items Belichick discussed were quarterback Marcus Mariota and Tennessee defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
King Henry – The Titans rushing attack was balanced during the season between Henry and DeMarco Murray. Murray actually had 184 carries, eight more than Henry, but it was Henry who led the way with 744 yards and a 4.2-yard average.
Murray sat out the wild card win over the Chiefs and Henry picked up the slack, carrying. 23 times for 154 yards and a touchdown. Belichick was asked about the physical, downhill runner.
"They've done a great job all year with their running game and their run defense, and last year, too, for that matter," Belichick said. "They've been very consistent. Defensively, they're at the top of the league and offensively they're very good, as well. Two great backs, a quarterback, so definitely a problem as a runner. They have a good, sound scheme with good players. They do a very good job running the ball. Their backs break a lot of tackles. They design plays well. They're well coached. They're a good fundamental team and they do a real good job of running the ball and they do a real good job of stopping the run."
Mariota also is a huge part of the running game with 312 yards on 60 rushes during the regular season. He also rushed for five touchdowns and added 46 yards on eight attempts in Kansas City.
Familiar look –The Patriots are no strangers to defenses run by Titans coordinator Dick LeBeau. The veteran spent several years in Pittsburgh and was running the show for the Steelers during the early part of the century when the teams seemed to meet annually in the postseason.
Belichick was asked how similar the Titans are on defense compared to his Pittsburgh days.
"I'd say Dick's defense is very similar to Dick's defense – Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Tennessee," Belichick said. "Dick's a great defensive coach. He's been a tremendous asset and has made so many contributions to the game of professional football in the National Football League. There are few coaches that I think you could put above him in terms of the amount of what he's accomplished and how much respect I have for him, how much respect all of us in the league have for him and what he's done. He's had a tremendous career. He's made this game a better game and he's done a lot for the coaching profession.
"He certainly revolutionized the game with his zone-blitz philosophy. That's certainly stood the test of time, but Dick's defense is Dick's defense. It's not anybody else's defense. He can utilize his personnel and find ways to create matchups and take advantage of, whether it's by scheme or by player, by individual matchup, to put problems and put pressure on the offense. He does an excellent job of that.
"His play calling is outstanding. He does a great job of keeping teams off-balance and making it difficult to execute offensively against his group. They play very good situational football. They're well coached. They're good fundamentally. They don't give up many big plays. They don't give up any easy plays. You've got to work for everything, but they're very sound. It's hard to gain many yards against them. You have to run a lot of plays together and they're good at preventing that because they just don't allow you to get into a good rhythm or get into consistency."
Mariota miracle –Mariota engineered a special comeback on the road against the chiefs, rallying his team from a 21-3 deficit in the second half. Belichick certainly was impressed and talked about Mariota's ability to avoid mistakes when it matters most.
"He's a smart player. They give him quite a bit of responsibility," he said. "He can, obviously, handle it well. He did a very good job running the no-huddle offense and making plays and adjustments at the line of scrimmage against Kansas City. If he sees a situation in the passing game that he doesn't like he's very strong and athletic enough to extend plays, whether that's buy time for the receivers to get open, throw on the run or in some cases advance the ball himself. He can do all of those things and he does a good job with the decision making process as those situations occur. That goes in the red area, third down and out in the field. He's a smart player that has good judgment, makes good decisions.
"Mariota's had a good year. They really have been in the playoffs here the last couple of weeks. They had to win their last regular-season game. He brought them from behind 21-3 against Kansas City in Kansas City for a playoff win. I think his performance speaks for itself."