A day after an impressive season finale win in Miami, Bill Belichick's 14-win Patriots enter the bye week as the No. 1 seed and the odds-on favorite to win Super Bowl LI next month in Houston.
New England is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak. It enters the postseason with the No. 3 scoring offense, No. 1 defense in points allowed and No. 1 in point differential as the best team in football.
But getting to this point was not easy, anything but a direct road to the role as the favorite in January.
Tom Brady was suspended for the first four weeks, leaving Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett to hold down the fort in Foxborough. There was the shocking Jamie Collins trade. Jabaal Sheard's benching. Another Rob Gronkowksi injury. And much more.
But Belichick, his coaches and his players plowed through it all to their current week of recovery, recuperation and opponent-less postseason preparation.
During his day-after-game conference call with the New England media late Monday morning, Belichick made it quite clear that he's been impressed with his team's ability to handle distractions and speed bumps dating all the way back to the summer.
That praise was one of the highlights of the morning call, with Belichick also taking time to talk up rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts and give a minimal update on the situation regarding his coordinators being candidates for head coaching jobs around the league.
1.Focused Patriots haven't gotten "caught up in other distractions": Every team goes through a slew of issues throughout a long professional season. When you are in New England where the bar is set very high and the media is always around the corner ready to pounce on any potential story, much can be thrown at the team. And while there were plenty of chances for the Patriots to be distracted, divided or derailed this season, Belichick is happy to say that never happened.
"I thought the players and the coaching staff have both done a great job this year of being focused and looking just at what's in front of us, that next game, not getting caught up in other distractions or things that we really don't have any control over that happened in the past or are too far down the road in the future to deal with," Belichick observed. "So, the players have been really good on that. The coaching staff has been good on it too. There are always things from week to week from a coaching standpoint that you have to make adjustments on, personnel things or it could be a number of issues. But whatever they are that's part of coaching is being able to adapt and improvise and make adjustments. I think our coaching staff has done a very good job of that."
2.No updates on Josh McDaniels/Matt Patricia: By all accounts and through various media reports New England's coordinators are expected to be near the top of the interview list for the many NFL teams now looking for a new head coach. McDaniels, the former head coach of the Broncos, has been in this situation often over the years. Patricia interviewed with the Browns last spring. And, for his part, Belichick has often had to oversee his assistants go through the interview process throughout his 17-year run of success in New England. That said – and heading into a bye week which is the traditional time for assistants on playoff teams with the No. 1 or No. 2 seed to interview – Belichick didn't have much update on his impressive underlings' potential opportunities for career advancement. How will Belichick again balance the process with the focus on the Patriots playoff future?
"Every situation is different. They are all unique. I'd say in the end, just, the most important thing is for this team to do what's best for this team and balance it out with some of the other things we have to balance," Belichick said. "We'll comply with everything we have to comply with in the league rules. Take it case by case."
Has anything come across Belichick's desk at this point in regards to interest in McDaniels, Patricia or even Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio?
"I wouldn't have any comment on that," Belichick deflected.
In their own conference calls just after Belichick's, neither Patricia nor McDaniels had anything to add regarding their situations, either.
"I haven't heard anything," Patricia said.
"Nothing," McDaniels responded.
3.Roberts has "improved a lot": The sixth-round rookie linebacker Roberts has seen his role, like that of so many other Patriots, vary significantly from week to week this season. A lot of that has to do with the opponent, the game plan, his health and how that fits in relative to other players' availability. Roberts played a big role in Sunday's win in Miami, tying for a team high with seven tackles as in the middle of the NFL's No. 3 rush defense that corralled Dolphins dangerous runner Jay Ajayi. This came after Roberts had a season-high 11 tackles in the win over the Jets. The young, physical run stuffer has finished an impressive rookie season in the strong fashion that his entire team made a priority down the stretch.
"I think Elandon has had a pretty consistent year for us," Belichick declared of the linebacker who played in 13 of 16 games with five starts, including in Miami. "The bottom line for him is he does a good job. He's a productive player. He works very hard. Football is very important to him. He cares a lot about it. He works hard to get things right and to do what he's asked to do. He's a great teammate, good communicator. He's improved a lot over the course of the year. He's done a good job for us."