The Patriots haven't lost a game on the road since the 2015 finale flop in Miami.
A dozen straight road games have seen Bill Belichick's club come away victorious in what is an almost ridiculous streak of success in any sport, never mind the NFL where playing at home is generally such a massive advantage.
That streak rolled on Sunday night in Denver with a 41-16 whooping of the Broncos in a place that has often given the Patriots trouble over the years, including a 3-7 mark in past trips to Mile High dating back to 2001.
With Belichick and his team having settled into their hotel home-away-from-home in Colorado for a week of work at the United States Air Force Academy, the coach touched on the reason for his team's road success in his day-after-game conference call on Monday.
"I think I would give the credit to our players. It's hard to win in this league, it's hard to win on the road," Belichick said. "And it takes a lot of mental toughness, focus, discipline and good execution – and sometimes a harder situation offensively and in the kicking game with crowd noise and the energy that fans in other stadiums bring. Certainly, last night, as usual, the Broncos crowd was full of energy. But, it takes a lot of concentration and focus and, as I said, mental toughness. You know, we had one penalty last night, so being able to play that type of a game where you don't give your opponents extra opportunities and played with good toughness and focus for 60 minutes, that each player is doing his job and staying at it for a whole night. So, we're very fortunate. We have a lot of good players, and they did a great job again last night, as they have for quite a while for us."
Beyond the praise for the Patriots road warrior mentality – one that will be tested with four more road games in the next five weeks – Belichick's Monday conference call touched on a variety of topics following yet another impressive win, New England's fifth straight.
Highlights of the conference call included a focus on fullback James Develin's key contributions, the decision to carry four tight ends on the active roster against the Broncos and a breakdown of the decision to challenge Rob Gronkowski's would-be catch at the goal line.
1. Develin "the ultimate team player":James Develin had a big game in the big win in the Rocky Mountains. The veteran fullback played a season-high 45 snaps on offense, delivering one bone-crushing block after another to Broncos front-seven defenders all night long. He also hauled in a pair of receptions for 16 yards, nearly matching the three catches he had over the entire first half of the season.
But Develin's value clearly goes well beyond the stat sheet or the attention he's usually given by casual fans and even media types. Belichick was quick to emphasize, though, just how important the veteran is to what the Patriots do on offense, special teams and really as an overall team.
"James has been doing a real good job of executing the role that we ask him to do, whether that's on offense or special teams, whatever it is," Belichick said. "He's the ultimate team player, works really hard at his job every day, very dependable, is a great teammate and if we ask him to do something, we've been able to count on him over a consistent period of time and that means a lot to everybody."
2. Four tight ends not common: With Martellus Bennett arriving via waivers from the Packers late last week, New England went into the Broncos game with four tight ends on the game day roster. Rob Gronkowski led the group both in terms of production – four catches for 74 yards – and snaps – 61. Bennett caught three passes for 38 yards, even though he only played seven snaps and spent time in the New England sideline medical tent. Dwayne Allen played 20 snaps and recorded his first catch of the season, an 11-yard touchdown. Rookie Jacob Hollister played just two snaps on offense and was not targeted, but his 14 snaps in the kicking game included the key recovery of Isaiah McKenzie's muffed punt to set up New England's opening score.
Clearly all four contributed to the win, even though Belichick admitted having four tight ends on the 46-man roster isn't exactly a common practice.
"I mean, we probably haven't done it a lot," Belichick said. "We just felt like it was the best thing to do based on all the factors that went into making the game day roster and there were a lot of considerations. In the end, we just felt like that would give us the best combination of people to play the game as competitively as we could."
A follow-up asked for the coach to describe each of his four tight ends' roles, leading Belichick to a pretty general answer.
"Each week is a different week for us. We have a different opponent and sometimes our combination of players is different, but certainly our opponents are different and their schemes are different and the matchups are different," Belichick explained. "So, how it all plays out – sometimes how it all plays out varies game-to-game and it could vary within the game. As a team starts to do something, as our opponent starts to adjust or alter their scheme in a certain way, that might give us another opportunity. So, we'll just take it as it comes. Sometimes we have an idea and it doesn't work out that way. Sometimes we don't really foresee the opportunity that presents itself, and then when it does, we have to adjust. So, I give the players a lot of credit for being ready to go, being ready to handle their roles as we anticipate going into the game and then, if we need to adjust to them, then they're ready to make those adjustments."
3. Gronkowski challenge "good opportunity" for goal line camera: There was a unique series of events in the second quarter of Sunday night's win in which Gronkowksi appeared to make an impressive, diving catch at the goal line. Officials, though, ruled the ball had hit the ground, even though the big tight end made it clear he had no doubt he'd made the catch.
New England came to the line after the non-catch call but ran out of time on the play clock and had to call a timeout. During the delay, Belichick decided to challenge the call on the field. After review, the officials stuck with the non-catch call and New England was charged a second timeout.
In regards to essentially wasting a timeout, Belichick admitted he should have just thrown the red challenge flag from the get-go and not let things get to the point where Tom Brady had to avoid the delay penalty by calling his own timeout.
"As we looked at it, I took a timeout, which didn't have anything to do with the challenge. I mean, I could have just challenged it in the first place, but I didn't do that. I probably should have, but anyway, we did have time to look at it a little bit longer during the timeout," Belichick said, acknowledging his mistake.
The coach also explained how he takes the receivers opinion into account when deciding to challenge.
"I do have a lot of trust in Rob and I think Rob knows when he catches the ball and when he doesn't," Belichick said. "As you said, all players like to think they catch them all, but sometimes that isn't the case. But, that's OK. I understand that. I don't really put a lot of faith in that, although the fact that he did feel like he caught it I think made me look at the play a little bit closer maybe than I would have if he hadn't been so emphatic about it."
In the end, Belichick wasn't overly surprised that the referee stuck with the call on the field and used the discussion once again as chance to bring up what has been his years-long attempt to get the league to put cameras on the goal line for such situations.
"It looked to me like he caught it, but the ruling on the field was that he didn't, and so, in the end, it might not have been enough video evidence to overturn it," Belichick explained. "Had the ruling gone the other way, I don't know if there would have been enough evidence to overturn. If it had been ruled a catch, I don't know if there would have been enough evidence to overturn that the other way. But, in any case, it went the way it did and I understand that.
"Again, not that it made any difference on that play, but again, I'll take this opportunity to say that I just am all for trying to get these plays right. I think that would have been a good example of where a goal line camera or a pylon camera would have been given a good opportunity. I think we saw in the Kansas City-Oakland game a couple weeks ago the great shot that that camera gave, so again, I think this would be just another example. In the end, it didn't make any difference in the game last night, but had that been the final play of the game or one of the final plays of the game in a close game, whichever side it was on, just want it to be right. Whether he caught it or didn't catch it, just make sure that we make the right call. It's a tough call. The official made the call. It's a tough call. The official that made the call was standing pretty close to me on the sideline. He was probably 30 yards away. It was a close play. I saw it the same way he did.
"It was really close, so maybe the league can find a way to finance that project and get a good quality shot of some of those goal line plays, like they had in the Oakland-Kansas City game