In the days since the controversial ESPN The Magazine story regarding "the internal power struggle in New England" hit the web last Friday, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have done their best to defend themselves against the piece.
First, the team issued a joint statement from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
Monday, Belichick used a morning conference call then an extended weekly afternoon interview on WEEI radio to deny many aspects of the ESPN story and answer questions regarding some of the themes within it.
Brady then took a similar turn denying the details of the story in his own weekly interview on WEEI on Tuesday morning.
So, when Belichick stepped to the podium for his Tuesday press conference in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium his opening statement not only began the week-long scouting breakdown of the Titans, but also made it clear he wasn't going to continue to address questions stemming from the ESPN story.
"We've dealt with some non-Tennessee subjects here over the last few days. At this point I'm all in on Tennessee. I'll answer any questions about the Titans but that's it," Belichick said to close out his opening comments, clearly laying the ground rules for the presser.
When a reporter tested those boundaries, Belichick pulled out an age-old line he's used to avoid answering questions in the past.
"Yeah, we're on Tennessee," Belichick said."
Prior to that, Belichick did his usual rundown of what makes Tennessee such an impressive foe this coming Saturday night in the Divisional Playoff.
"We've really been able to dig into Tennessee here the last few days since Sunday night. Obviously, we did work on them last week but once things cleared up Sunday night it's all in on Tennessee. It's an impressive football team. They do a lot of things well. They're a very well-balanced team. They're strong in all three phases of the game, really good in the kicking game," Belichick said. "This is a team that's been in a lot of close games. They're tough, they're resilient, won on the road, won tough games the last two weeks that they needed to win to be here. I have a lot of respect for their program, the way they play, the way they coach, the way they compete and [they're] a tough, hard-nosed team."
Beyond distancing himself from more talk about the ESPN story and praising the Titans, highlights of Belichick's morning press conference also included an admission he stayed up late watching college football, praise for former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan and an explanation of how preparations are different for postseason play.
1. "I couldn't pull myself away from" Alabama win: Clearly Belichick had a rooting interest in last night's college football national title game in Atlanta. Alabama is obviously coached by his longtime friend and former assistant Nick Saban. And the Crimson Tide offense is coordinated by Brian Daboll, New England's former tight ends coach who left Belichick's staff this offseason to take over play-calling duties for Saban.
Add in the fact that the contest with Georgia was a dramatic overtime battle with Alabama coming back to win its fifth title under Saban and the game hooked Belichick just like it did many other less-connected college football fans.
"I didn't want to stay up that late, but I couldn't pull myself away from it," Belichick admitted. "What a football game. Two great teams, a great game, just a tremendous football game. I'm happy for Coach Saban, Coach Daboll, all of the people at Alabama. A great competitive effort from Georgia and Coach [Kirby] Smart and his staff. Yeah, it was a great football game."
2. Ryan's role: Logan Ryan was a dependable, durable key cog in the Patriots secondary for the first four seasons of his NFL career. This offseason, though, the former third-round pick out of Rutgers turned the impressive start to his career into lucrative free-agent contract with the Titans. Saturday night he'll return to Foxborough to face his former squad.
Ryan started all 15 games he played in his first season in Tennessee, finishing with 62 tackles and a forced fumble. According to Belichick, his former trusted corner has brought his valuable style of play with him to his new home, playing on the outside in base defense and moving inside to the slot in sub packages, both roles he filled at various points in his time in New England.
"He had a really good year," Belichick said. "I think he missed Week 15. I think that was against the Rams, but he was back and came back last week, or two weeks ago and then last week. Logan's a tough kid, a really competitive kid, a smart player, does a really good job with communication, adjustments. He's right in the middle of the action in his nickel position. But, he's a solid player. He's played well for them. I have a lot of respect for Logan."
3. "This is what you work for":Belichick emphasizes the importance of each game each week throughout the NFL season. The next game is always the biggest, most important game of the year. But, in reality, the playoffs are a different beast. It's win-or-go-home time.
Belichick acknowledged the heightened importance of Saturday night's action when asked how preparations are different for a playoff contest.
"Well, it's a one-game season. This is what you work for, is to get to this position," Belichick said. "Now we're in it. Now you put everything that you have into this one-game season. We have one game left against the Titans. We have to play better than they do to be able to continue playing. That's a huge challenge. Obviously, every team that's playing, I mean, there are eight teams left. All eight of them are good teams. Every team is good at this time of year. There's a reason why they're here. They've earned their way here. There's no other reason why you're playing this weekend unless you've earned it. We've earned it, the Titans have earned it and I'm sure it'll be a very competitive game. They got a great football team. I can see why they're here. They're good, as I said, in all three phases of the game. They're well coached. They're a solid team. They've played under pressure. They've won under pressure. They've won on the road. They've had a good year and they've got a good team, so we're going to have to be at our best. We know that."