Bill Belichick's Patriots clinched the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye thanks to Sunday afternoon's 38-3 blowout of Jets at Gillette Stadium.
It's the ninth straight postseason in which the Patriots have had a first-round bye, so making use of the extra week of playoff preparation is old hat in Foxborough.
Monday afternoon in his weekly day-after-game conference call with the New England media, Belichick explained that all the winter bye weeks are very similar, though they could vary slightly from year to year.
"Each year is different and so therefore, yes, it is different every year. But the timeframe and the situation is about the same," Belichick explained. "Every year when you're in this position, there are three teams you could potentially play and one team that you wouldn't play the first week, and then you could potentially play any of the five teams the second week. Some of that clears itself up. It's an unusual situation because the rest of the year you always know who your next game is against, whether you have the bye week or you have an opponent the following week or you're in preseason or whatever it is. You'll always know who the next team is that you're playing and you can set a certain preparation schedule for that opponent regardless of who the opponent is or how long or short the week is that leads up to that game. Here, it's multiple teams.
"You have to be prepared for those options, but at the same time you don't want to create chaos. I don't think you want to create a confusing situation where you're trying to do so much that you don't get anything done, so you have to try to, I'd say at this point, figure out what's the most productive thing you can do for your team and that might not be the same for every player. It might not be the same for each unit. You might have to find a way to balance some things, but in the end you're trying to do the most productive thing you can with the time that you have available. That might include not doing anything. It might include resting. It might include film work, practice, fundamentals, scheme plays, situations and so forth and it all would probably be helpful. You just have to decide which ones you think would do the most good and structure it that way. Once you know who you're playing then it's full steam ahead on that opponent. Fundamentally, it's about the same every year but it's different every year because of the circumstances."
Beyond the explanation of bye-week work, here are some of the other takeaways from Belichick's day-after-game conference call.
Butler's big play and big jump: A year ago Adam Butler made the New England roster as an undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt. He started six of 16 games played, a streak of availability that he extended this fall with another season of 16 games played.
After notching a pair of sacks as a rookie, Butler put up three more this season, including a strip sack of Sam Darnold in Sunday's win over New York that was returned for a touchdown by teammate Kyle Van Noy.
Belichick was asked about Butler's growth in his second season.
"I think he's definitely improved, but most players do. Again, that Year One to Year Two is a time when all of us – players and coaches – we all went through it," Belichick said. "The first year you're kind of just trying to keep your head above water and swim as fast as you can to keep up but it's hard. The second year when you have been through it once before, you have a better idea of what you're doing. You have a better idea of what to expect in terms of the overall schedule and the season and so forth and you have a better idea what to expect from your opponents and the other factors that come along with playing competitive games. All of that is valuable information. It's valuable experience and a lot of it comes from Year One to Year Two.
"He's certainly done that. His communication skills are good. He does a good job of handling the communication on the defensive line with games and blitzes and things like that. Sometimes formation adjustments and those type of things. He's in the middle of the formation so he can generally see those and is in a position and a proximity to relay or make those calls to his teammates. He's a smart player that can adjust quickly. He's done a good job for us on the punt return team as well, which wasn't a big role for him last year so he's been able to expand his versatility and his value to the team by those added responsibilities. Yeah, he's improved in every area."
Officials "incredibly valuable to the game": Longtime famed referee Walt Coleman, he of "Tuck Rule" fame throughout Patriot Nation, worked his final regular season game Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Afterwards he shared some time with a number of players, including Tom Brady, as well as taking in the final scene with the rest of his crew.
Belichick spent time talking with Coleman, as he does all referees, prior to the game and Monday explained the respect that he has for the men who officiate in the NFL.
"He's had a great career," Belichick said of the NFL's longest-tenured referee. "There's no doubt those guys – all of the officials – they have such a hard job to do. I know we look at the replays and analyze them millisecond by millisecond and everybody has all of the answers on what it should be and what it shouldn't be. These guys are out there trying to do it live and at full speed. They make so many amazingly good calls and some of the plays are just so close that it's less than an inch or less than, not even a split-second. Just again, just a millisecond of whether it goes one way or another way. They just get so many of them right.
"It's a hard thing to do, but they do an excellent job of it and Walt's done it for a long time. Look, I respect all of the officials. I respect what Walt did and some of the other guys that are now commenting on the games, like Mike Pereira and people like that that have gone from – Dean Blandino – that have gone from officiating to TV or guys like Ed Hochuli that have retired in recent years. What they added to the game during the time that they officiated it, regardless of what their position was, they were incredibly valuable to the game. We saw a short period of time where we didn't have that quality of officiating and I think we're all glad that we have the guys that we have and appreciate the job that they do."
Coordinated success: New England's two coordinators – long time offensive boss Josh McDaniels and linebackers coach-turned-defensive playcaller Brian Flores – are in the news this week as other teams reportedly will request interviews with the coaches for open head-coaching jobs. Though Belichick was not asked about those reported requests or the process of his assistants possibly interviewing with other teams this week, he did explain some of what it takes to make the move from position coach to coordinator. He also explained that not all position coaches aspire to be coordinators, just like not all coordinators want to be head coaches.
"And that's not a negative. I'm not saying that negatively at all, but yeah," Belichick said of some coaches not wanting to ascend the ladder of jobs. "There's plenty of coordinators who don't want to be head coaches and plenty that do and plenty of position coaches who don't want to be coordinators and plenty that do. Yeah, I think there are people that fall into all of those categories. Quite frankly, they're all valuable and I don't know that you want everybody on your staff to be all one or all the other."