On Jan. 13 the Patriots will open the postseason with the possibility of hosting the Texans, Ravens or Chargers at Gillette Stadium.
While the specific opponent won't be decided until this coming weekend's wild card action, Bill Belichick's Patriots were back at work on Wednesday at Gillette Stadium attempting to put the bye week to full use. Right now it's about self-improvement rather than game preparation.
"We have an opportunity this week to work on things that will help us," Belichick said to open his midweek press conference. "Obviously, we don't know who we're going to play, so once that clears up, we'll turn our attention to that team. But, right now, hopefully we can find some things that we can improve on that will help us the next time we do get a chance to play. So, that's pretty much where we are today."
New England beat the Texans 27-20 in the regular season opener in Foxborough, and four times over the last three seasons, including playoff action after the 2016 season. As such, he was asked if more preparation time might be shifted toward Los Angeles or Baltimore at this point.
"Well again, once we find out who we play, we'll turn all our attention to that team," Belichick reiterated. So, in the meantime, we'll prepare to be ready for whoever it is, and most importantly try to work on things that will benefit the New England Patriots no matter who we play."
Beyond his general thoughts on the bye week, here are some of the other takeaways from Belichick's Wednesday press conference.
Urban Meyer a "great man": New Year's Day college football bowl action included Ohio State beating Washington in the Rose Bowl. The game was the final in the Buckeye coaching career for Urban Meyer. Belichick was asked about his relationship with longtime college coach and offered his thoughts on Meyer's impressive career.
"I go back a long way with Urban," Belichick said. "I talk to him multiple times every season. I have great respect and appreciation for what he's done, the national championships, the programs that he's built going all the way back. I mean, he was an Ohio guy when I was in Ohio and back to Bowling Green, and obviously Notre Dame, and then Utah, Florida, Ohio State. So, yeah, great man, has had tremendous success, he's been a good friend and I have great admiration for what he's done."
WR coach Chad O'Shea has "done a great job": Wide receiver has been one of the most fluid positions on the Patriots roster this season. There was offseason overhaul with the trade of Brandin Cooks. There was summer disappointment as guys like Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews and Eric Decker failed to work out. There was the first-month suspension. And the in-season trade for Josh Gordon that paid off immensely right up until the big target was removed from the mix due to another NFL suspension.
Through it all, veteran wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea has had to keep the group moving forward. Belichick said O'Shea is just one example of the strong staff of assistant coaches he's fortunate to employ in New England.
"It's been that way for a long time," Belichick said of his respect and admiration for O'Shea. "Chad's done a great job for us. I'm very fortunate to have the coaching staff that I have. Those guys all do an excellent job, they work hard, they prepare extremely well, they are demanding of their players, get their players to perform well, at the same time have a good team chemistry and appreciation for what everybody else is doing outside of just their individual area, which is obviously important to them, but there's a bigger picture that they have to work within for the overall benefit of the team. I mean, they all do a great job of that. They work well in their units. They work well with coaches on the other side of the ball or the people that they interact with. They've all done a real good job, as they've continued to do for me for the last 19 years."
James White "always does the right thing": With 16 games in the books, running back James White finished the season leading the Patriots with a career-high, team running back-record 87 receptions for 751 yards and a squad-best seven touchdowns. White has certainly grown as a player throughout his time in New England, both on and off the field. Belichick had plenty of high praise for White this week, including an explanation of how he went from more of a runner in college at Wisconsin to one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL.
"I think he's improved in the passing game here," Belichick said of White's career growth. "He did some of that at Wisconsin. He was used some as a slot receiver, but he ran the ball more than he caught it there. Here, I mean, I don't know what the numbers are, but he's caught the ball a lot for us. He's been a key player in the passing game, although he's certainly had contributions in the running game, too. But, I'd say he's done more in the passing game than what he had shown there – not saying he didn't do it there, but it was just, I would say, expanded here. But, yeah, he does everything well. I mean, he's a great kid. He's smart, he works hard, very tough, dependable, his ball security, his decision making, situational football – I mean, he is one of those guys that almost always does the right thing. Sometimes things come up that aren't exactly the way they were practiced or doesn't exactly follow the rule that you've outlined, but he has to make a decision quickly, whatever the circumstances or situation is, and he almost always makes the right one. Some of that's just instinctive and good judgment on his part that's, I'd say, beyond coaching. Just he knows how to play football. We have a lot of guys like that, but I'd certainly put him in that category.