Less than 24 hours after his team's impressive opening night upset victory in Arizona, Bill Belichick held a conference call with the media Monday afternoon.
The New England football boss had time between the Sunday night victory and this afternoon to break down the film of the road win that put the Patriots atop the AFC East after the first weekend of regular season action.
Clearly Belichick saw a lot of things he liked in the hard-fought, down-to-the-wire win. But, as is so often the case, he also saw plenty that needs to be cleaned up if his team is going to improve and continue to win football games on a regular basis.
Here are a few of the highlights of what Belichick had to say after a long, happy flight home following New England's season-opening victory.
1. Scarnecchia on par with Saban:There are few people that Belichick seems to respect more in football than Alabama head coach Nick Saban. The two have a long history, both has friends and co-workers dating back to their days working together in Cleveland. But Belichick made it clear that New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia – a 30-year veteran who returns this fall after two years in retirement – ranks up there with the best coaches he's come across in his four-plus decades in the game.
And Scarnecchia proved his worth no in the opener, making the best of a young, makeshift, inexperienced offensive line against a formidable Cardinals defense.
"I think the world of Dante. I think he is as fine of a coach as anybody that I've coached with and I've had the opportunity to coach with a lot of them, certainly. Him and Coach Saban are up there pretty high along with a lot of other great coaches, and Scott O'Brien in the kicking game.
"But yeah, it's great to have him back and he does a tremendous job with the individual techniques of the players and also in terms of making them aware of their assignments and adjustments and scheme things that come up, too. Those two components are just huge for the offensive line, not only individually but so that all five guys understand the same thing at the same time because that's really what makes an offensive line a good line, is that they can all work together and do it cohesively. He does a great job of all of those things."
Scarnecchia got his group – which included rookie starters at guard in Joe Thuney and Ted Karras – to do a job that was good enough to win.
"We hung in there, we competed with them and we had some good ones and some not so good ones, but we hung in there and kept slugging it out," Belichick concluded.
2. Garoppolo has a presence: Jimmy Garoppolo couldn't have been much more impressive in his NFL starting debut in Arizona. He was accurate, efficient and certainly ran the offense in a way that helped key the victory. Belichick was asked about his young, fill-in quarterback's pocket presence, an ability to keep plays alive as needed. That may have been best exemplified on a late third-down conversion on which he bought time before finding Danny Amendola to move the chains with a throw down the field.
"I think Jimmy does a good job in the pocket. He has got good vision. He saw a couple of opportunities to run and then he saw a couple of other opportunities to slide in the pocket, extend the play," Belichick said. "The play you're talking about to [Danny] Amendola – that was one. He had another one to Julian [Edelman] that got called back but I thought it was another kind of equally good play where he slid up in the pocket, didn't cross the line of scrimmage and hit Julian for the first down, but the play was called back because of a penalty. But I thought he did a good job of that. He doesn't hang on to the ball. He gets it out of there on time but if things are covered then he has made good decisions in and out of the pocket on those extended plays."
3. 60-minute Patriots: New England had to fight down to the wire to pull off the upset in Arizona. Garoppolo put together a late drive to Stephen Gostkowski's game-winning field goal. The special teams did its best on the ensuing kickoff to win the field-position battle, a penalty starting the Cardinals off inside the 10. Then the defense fought to the finish, holding on enough to see Arizona miss its own potential game-winning kick. A lot of guys played a lot of snaps, many of those late snaps with the game on the line.
Transitioning from the part-time play in the preseason, Belichick was clearly proud of the way his team fought to the finish – and was capable of fighting to the finish – in all three phases of the game.
"It's something that we've been talking to our players about for several weeks now," Belichick said. "Look, you're not going to play every play of a preseason game but in September you might be playing every play of the regular season game, so here are your preseason plays in preseason but we've got to work your condition level to a much higher point than that because the commands are going to be higher, and I'd say they're even going to be higher this week when we go to a 1:00 p.m. game on Sunday. Last night's game was indoors, and I mean if we had played that game outside yesterday that would've been even more challenging. I don't know what we're going to get here this weekend but I'm saying potentially a warmer day at 1:00 p.m. tests your conditioning a lot more than a cooler evening does in preseason. All of those things are part of the buildup and we can't get them in preseason but we have to get them in our training camp and the practices to try to prepare for that. I thought that our levels were pretty good there and we executed some plays well at the end of the game that we really needed.
"I'd say one of the plays that kind of stood out to me was the screen pass on that last drive where you can see our defensive line and linebackers running to the ball with a lot of effort to close that space down very quickly. I think we tackled them for a loss on that but the energy and the speed that the players were moving with at that point of the game I thought was pretty good, so that's the type of conditioning we feel like we're going to need to win a 60 minute game. It certainly was a 60 minute game last night."