[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="518216"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]Coming off Saturday night's successful-if-flawed victory over the Texans to advance to a record sixth straight AFC Championship Game, Bill Belichick and his coaches have a few different tasks at hand.
New England will be reviewing and cleaning up some of many mistakes that the team overcame in dispatching Houston 34-16.
It will also begin preparations for next Sunday night's game at Gillette Stadium, with an opponent still to be determined by tonight's battle between the Steelers and Chiefs in Kansas City that was pushed back seven-plus hours due to an ice storm.
The process for he and his team was one of a number of topics Belichick addressed during his traditional day-after-game conference call with the local media, this one coming on a rare Sunday afternoon.
Little more than 12 hours after his team beat Bill O'Brien's Texans, Belichick had a bit of an edge to him at a few points in his conference call.
For example he had a typical dismissal of a question looking for an update on Chris Hogan's health status after the veteran receiver left Saturday night's game with a thigh injury. Beyond his usual response deferring an update to Wednesday's injury report, Belichick said any talk of the injury now would be a "bunch of hot air."
He also seemingly bristled at a question regarding Eric Rowe's penalty against Houston for pulling a player off a post-play scrum pile, something that is specifically forbidden by NFL rule. Belichick interrupted a reporter wondering about the flag, even if a player was attempting to "do the right thing."
"What's the right thing?" Belichick said. "What are you talking about? What's the right thing?"
Trying to separate players?
"You can't do that," Belichick continued. "There is no…you can't do that. You can't pull players off the pile. That's not the right thing. That rule is clear cut. There is no question about it. You can't do that.
"You can't do things that are defined by the rules as illegal. You can't do them. Period. There is no right thing to do. The rule is the rule. You have to play the game by the rules. Obviously we have to do a better job of coaching it. We have to do a better job coaching all the rules.
"The right thing is to play within the rules. Period. Black and white."
Belichick also had plenty of praise for his players work in the win over Houston, including key contributions from Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and the entirety of the kickoff return unit on Dion Lewis' touchdown.
Here are some of the highlights of Belichick's midday conference call as he and the Patriots wait to find out whether New England will be playing Kansas City or Pittsburgh with a trip to Super Bowl LI on the line next Sunday night in Foxborough.
1. Waiting and watching: Originally the game in Kansas City was scheduled for 1 o'clock on Sunday. By late afternoon Belichick and Co. would have known the task at hand this week. But an ice storm and public safety concerns mean New England won't know until late tonight which talented opponent will come to Gillette on their own short week. Belichick broke down how he and his team are handling the time up to having a defined opponent.
"It was a long night…or a short night, however you want to look at it. So getting a little rest is, that will help all of us," Belichick said of Sunday's To-Do List. "We're going back to our game and doing a good job of looking at the Houston game and the things that they did and the things we need to do. It doesn't matter who we play there are some things that we need to do regardless, that will be important. And whatever time we have to work on the two teams that play tonight, it's 50/50 on which one…if you are working on the right team or not. We understand that.
"You do what you think is the most important thing.
"We've done all the work on both teams that we can do from a staff standpoint. We have all the games broken down except for tonight's game. We all have the information that's available. We won't know until later tonight who it's going to be. That's where we are at."
2. "Everybody has trouble blocking" Clowney, Mercilus: The Patriots offensive line didn't have one of its better days against the Texans. Tom Brady was sacked twice and the official stats say he was hit eight times, though his body probably felt it was more often than that. Houston moved pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus around the front and often found fortuitous matchups, especially on the interior of the Patriots line. A reporter's question, including acknowledging the abilities of the talented Texans defenders was interrupted by Belichick saying, "No kidding," before going on to talk about his team's struggles in pass protection.
"We talked about them all week. They are well coached. They have a very good coaching staff and a very good coordinator. And they are two outstanding players," Belichick said of Clowney and Mercilus, both second-team All-Pro performers. "I mean those guys, everybody has trouble blocking them. They are very disruptive players. Both of them. They are big. They can run. They are very instinctive. They play smart. They have great balance. They're good."
3. Ryan continues to improve, make plays: During the middle of the season, on one of his previous day-after-games conference calls, Belichick talked about what was essentially an open competition for the No. 2 cornerback job opposite Malcolm Butler. Since then it seems that veteran Logan Ryan has improved on almost a weekly basis, including an elite performance in the win over the Texans that included seven tackles, an interception, a sack and three passes defensed. He spent much of the night working against DeAndre Hopkins, who finished with an unspectacular six catches for 65 yards.
"Logan has done a good job for us all year. He did a great job for us last night," Belichick said, using Ryan as an example of what should happen to all players as the season evolves. "That was a big matchup on Hopkins and then inside in the nickel position where Hopkins aligned a lot, not always. He ended up on him in there, too. But really that's what football is all about, is to continue to work hard and get better. That's why we meet every day. That's why we practice every day. That's why we train and work on the things that we do is to try to improve. Every player has an opportunity to do that, every day unless they are injured. All the things that we put into our daily activities, that's what it's designed for is to help the individual player and their unit and the team improve and get better on a weekly basis. It's a long season. No team's where they were in December. No team is where they were in September. They've all worked. They've all improved. It's the teams that improve the most, the players that improve the most that can show that.
"Logan's done a great job. He's worked hard. He's very conscientious. He takes coaching well. He tries to do what he's instructed to do. When you identify something he's doing wrong he tries to correct it and improve on it. So I think a player's improvement over the course of the year, I mean it's the way it should be. Every player has an opportunity to do that. He's done a great job of taking advantage of those opportunities."