Bill Belichick's Patriots hit their midseason bye week on a four-game winning streak following Sunday's 21-13 victory over the Chargers.
New England's 6-2 record has the defending champs alone atop the AFC East midway through what has already been, at times, a trying season.
During his usual Monday morning, day-after-game conference call with the local media, Belichick was asked about a number of factors facing his team at this point.
Some were quite specific, like the coach offering "no" update on Chris Hogan, after the receiver left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury that had him wearing a sling after the victory.
Belichick was also asked if Stephon Gilmore's absence against the Chargers was a medical decision or a coaching one. The cornerback has now missed three straight games while being listed on the injury report with both a concussion and an ankle injury.
"Well, we listed him on the injury report the way we always do. We make those designations on Friday and then based on where things are on Sunday, then we make the determination," Belichick said of Gilmore. "I think, when he's ready and able to play and able to do everything, then I'm sure he'll be able to help us. We're working towards that point. We're getting closer and we'll see when we get there."
Belichick also had a "I don't know, we'll have to see how it goes," response to a query wondering if second-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell might still be an option to return from injured reserve.
Other topics that arose were more general in nature and evolved in an organic fashion within Belichick's answers. That was especially true when the coach was asked about sticking with the team's running game at times against the Chargers even when it wasn't overly productive, against a defense that plays with a safety in the box most of the time.
Belichick made it clear that he wasn't happy with a performance on the ground that saw New England tally just 97 yards on 32 carries for a 3.0-yard average, with no Patriots ballcarrier able to muster more than 3.8 yards per carry.
"In the end, you have to block them. At some point, a good back needs to gain some yards on his own and break a tackle or make somebody miss on a player that's not blocked," Belichick lamented. "So, we've got to do a better job of running the ball, period. That's coaching the running game, designing the running game, blocking the running game, running the ball and all the other things associated with it. [We] need to have more production than what we had yesterday or, I'd say, what we had overall over a period of time. We need to get more out of it."
Beyond the injury updates and the critique of the Patriots ground game, here are the other highlights from Belichick's Monday morning conference call.
1. Building on field goal blocks: Though the official stat sheet didn't credit it as such, Belichick said that defensive lineman Lawrence Guy definitely got his hands on a first-quarter 51-yard field goal attempt by Chargers kicker Nick Novak. The play came a week after Cassius Marsh blocked a field goal attempt against the Falcons. While noting the limitations that the league has put on attempts to block kicks, Belichick praised his players for finding a way to still get the job done.
"Those guys work really hard, they give great effort," Belichick said. "With all the rules that have passed that make it so difficult to get any kind of pressure at all on a field goal, those guys have taken advantage of what are the remaining opportunities, probably before they find some way to take those out, to put pressure on that kick."
2. Trade deadline deals are tough to predict: Late Tuesday afternoon the NFL's trade deadline will pass. That means the next 24-plus hours will likely include plenty of conversations between teams regarding potential trades. New England has been very active at the deadline in recent years, including last Halloween's shipping of Jamie Collins to the Browns.
Monday Belichick had a long answer describing back-and-forth of how deals might come about. But at the end of the 638-word response he made it clear that anyone who pretends to know what is going to happen doesn't really know what they're talking about.
"You look at the rosters of the other 31 teams in the league, and based on what you know, other information that you gather, the inactive list every week and the play time, you can start to see which players have a diminished role in another team's system, for whatever those reasons are," Belichick explained. "And, a lot of times if a team has a need in an area and they match that up with another team who's not making a player active that the team with the depth issue feels like that player could give them depth, well then that's a potential conversation.
"Every situation is different, every team is different, every player's situation is different. I mean, there's no go to the book on trades. OK, chapter one, here's how it goes. It just doesn't really work that way. It's a very fluid situation. Things can change literally in a period of minutes.
"So, each one's different. I wouldn't try to read too much into any of it. I think trying to predict what's going to happen this time of year is – I don't have any idea. I'm sure a lot of the other experts out there do, but I don't. So, you just take it as it comes. If it makes sense and it works, then great. If it doesn't, it doesn't."
3. Gostkowski's kickoffs have been key:Stephen Gostkowski had an up-and-down day against the Chargers. The veteran kicker hit four field goals in the tight win, but also missed a pair of kicks from 43 yards that left him expressing his own mixed emotions after the win.
But it's important to note that Gostkowski had another strong day on kickoffs, continuing to put his boots high and at the goal line to let his coverage team make a play. It worked once again, with the Chargers averaging just 18 yards on four returns, including three possessions that began at or inside the 20.
"Kicking the ball through the uprights is No. 1. Kickoffs is not to say a distant second, but it's definitely second to kicking it through the uprights for the kickers. But, both plays are important," Belichick said of his kicker's job descrption. "Our kickoff coverage unit certainly has benefited from the excellent kickoffs that Stephen has given us all year, so not only the location, but the hang time. And, he's put a lot of pressure on those returners when they catch the ball right there on the goal line, 1-yard line, whether to bring it out or stay in. You know, they're looking down, they're trying to make sure they make the right decision instead of being aggressive sometimes with catching the ball and looking at the blocking scheme and so forth. So, there are a lot of little things that come into play there, but Steve's done a good job of all those and our coverage team has taken advantage of those opportunities and created the good field position for our defense. So, there's nothing better defensively then going in there on a long field and having them backed up. We just defensively have to do a good job to take advantage of that."