For the second time in three weeks the Patriots will be facing a team they saw recently. Two weeks ago, New England took on the Miami Dolphins twice in a three-week span. On Christmas Eve, the Patriots will battle Buffalo for the second time in four weeks.
Bill Belichick explained how the quick turnaround wasn’t handled all that well the first time around and how believes the coaching will need to improve.
“Last time we had a quick turnaround we didn’t do very well with it,” Belichick said. “Hopefully, we can do a better job of coaching and be more competitive this week.
“I'm talking about playing Miami and then playing them a couple of weeks later. I'm talking about playing Buffalo and then playing them three weeks later. In a short time frame. Like, 'Oh yeah, well not much has changed.' Well, the result of the game changed.”
Belichick when on to speak highly of the Bills, who have themselves in playoff contention under first-year coach Sean McDermott. But despite Buffalo’s resurgence, the main storyline heading into the game is whether or not Buffalo intends to seek retribution for the late hit made by Rob Gronkowski against Tre’Davious White, which led to a one-game suspension for the Patriots Pro Bowl tight end.
“I'm sure it'll be a very competitive game, like it always is against Buffalo,” Belichick explained. “I think that the Bills have played great football all year long. Coach McDermott’s done a great job with the team. They’re very disciplined. They’re tough. They’re physical. They’re very competitive in every phase of the game on every play.
“There’s no downs off. There’s no plays off. We’re going to have to play a good 60-minute game. We need to play with fewer penalties, fewer mistakes, better ball security, better tackling, better discipline. There’s a lot of things we need to do better than the last time that we played them, but they’re a good football team. They’re well-coached and I’m sure that we’ll get their best shot. We need to give them ours.”
Despite the quick turnaround, Belichick emphasized some of the differences between this game and the last time the teams met.
Big Ben-jamin – *Perhaps the biggest change for Buffalo in the rematch will be the presence of *Kelvin Benjamin. The 6-5 wide receiver already played against the Patriots once this year while a member of the Carolina Panthers, catching four passes for 104 yards in the Panthers 33-30 win in Foxborough.
Benjamin missed out on a chance to play the Patriots three times in the regular season when because he was injured after being dealt to Buffalo and missed the meeting in Orchard Park. He’s healthy now and Belichick talked about his impact.
“I mean, he’s obviously a big size receiver primarily at ‘X’, so a lot of single coverage out there,” the coach said. “He’s a guy that’s a target that [Tyrod] Taylor can look at out there and toss it up to either as part of a play or as part of an extended play – that type of thing, scramble play.
“But, Benjamin’s a big guy. He can go up and get the ball and has a good route tree, inside routes and vertical routes, a strong player after the catch.”
His mama calls him Clay – *The Patriots are no strangers to Bills tight end *Charles Clay. He played in Miami so New England saw him twice a year there as well as recently in Buffalo.
Belichick has tons of respect for the pass-catching tight end and explained his impact on the Bills offense.
“He’s always involved. He’s a really good player,” Belichick said. “He’s very good down the field. He’s got great speed and discipline in his routes. He’s a very good route runner and has an explosive speed to go with it, so he doesn’t need much, a step, a half a step. He can run away from a lot of guys. He’s very deceptive the way he sets up routes and he’s got two or three routes that look the same until the final break and then you could be going in a couple of different directions. He does that on the way he stems.
“He’s got a couple of routes like that and he’s a good catch-and-run player because he’s fast and he’s got good run-after-catch skills, so he can take an under route, or a tight end screen, or a check down, or something like that and turn it into a big play. But then he’s good down the field on seams, overs, crossing routes, flag patterns, wheels, things like that. He can get you in a lot of different ways.
“This guy is a really good player. But, they always involve him. Sometimes you take him away and that opens things up for [LeSean] McCoy on check downs, or [Travaris] Cadet, or one of the other receivers. He sucks some coverage away from [Nick] O'Leary and that’s, at times, they’ve complemented each other. A lot of times it doesn’t always go to him, but he can be a part of opening it up for somebody else.”
First time for everything – Wednesday press conference wasn’t entirely about the Bills. Belichick was asked about his four Pro Bowlers and specifically James Develin. The fullback was named to the AFC squad for the first time, and Belichick couldn’t have been happier about it.
“I think it's great. Look, nobody has worked hard than James has. He started off on the practice squad, worked his way onto the roster, on and off as an active and inactive player. [He] has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively. His play time has increased. His production has increased.
“As hard as he works in the weight room, on the field, off the field, preparation. I mean, whenever you see James, you see him working. You see him doing extras in the weight room. You see him doing extras on the practice field. You see him in early or late looking at film, going over things.
“He’s got a role. He’s very good at it. It’s a very important role and so it’s great to see him recognized for it. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for all of the guys that got recognized.”