Not too many things detour Bill Belichick from his intense focus and message regarding the weekly task at hand.
This particular week that means preparing for next Sunday’s trip to Buffalo to take on the upstart Bills.
But during his usual Monday morning day-after-game conference call with the local media, the Patriots head coach momentarily admitted that one of his team’s recent accomplishments, one that’s been built up over nearly two decades of crazy success, is a point of pride inside of Gillette Stadium.
Sunday’s 35-17 win over the Dolphins gave the Patriots their ninth win of the season. That win guarantees that New England will finish with a winning record for the 17th consecutive season under Belichick’s direction dating back to 2001. It’s the second longest streak in NFL history, trailing only the Cowboys success from 1966-85. It pushed the Patriots past the 49ers (1983-98) and Cowboys (1970-85) for the longest streak since the NFL merger.
“That’s what we’re here for is to win games. Yeah, we take a lot of pride in it,” Belichick said of the 17-year streak, before getting back on his usual message. “But, that being said, there’s probably another time to talk about that and reflect back on it and so forth. You know, none of those other – however many seasons it was or however many games it was – really makes any difference this week. I mean, nobody cares about that. This is just strictly a matchup between the Patriots and the Bills in 2017, and how these two teams compete against each other is really what it’s all about.
“So, I don’t think living in the past is going to help us, and I don’t think living in the future is going to help us, either. The best thing we can do is prepare and get ready to play Buffalo in Buffalo, which is always tough, and that will take a lot of work and a lot of preparation and it will have its own unique challenges this week that we haven’t faced all year. So, that’s a big challenge for us. Whatever did or didn’t happen in the past is a matter of record, so I’ll leave the commentary on that to you guys. I think we really need to just focus on what we’re doing. But, yeah, certainly we take pride in winning and that’s important to us, whether it’s games, division, conference, whatever. Yeah, sure, of course. That means a lot to us.”
Beyond a momentary acknowledgement of the pride he takes in what is arguably one of the more impressive aspects of the dynasty Belichick has built in New England, here are some of the other highlights of yet another victory Monday conference call.
*1. “Utmost respect and zero reservations” regarding Greg Schiano: *Belichick has expressed his respect for Schiano endlessly over the years, dating back the latter’s time as head coach at Rutgers, a program from which New England plucked plenty of players. So it was no surprise that the New England head coach had plenty of positive things to say in his postgame press conference Sunday night when advised that Schiano, currently the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, had been hired as the new head coach at the University of Tennessee.
But, shortly after Belichick’s latest praise, the Volunteers caved in to apparent external pressures and pulled out of the agreement to hire Schiano. Some protestors and public officials questioned the new hire’s connection to the Jerry Sandusky’s Penn State sexual abuse scandal due to Schiano’s time as a Nittany Lions assistant coach from 1990-95.
Monday, Belichick reiterated that he would very much vouch for Schiano’s character.
“100 percent. Yes, 100 percent,” Belichick said. “I think I said it pretty thoroughly yesterday. I have great respect and think he's a great football coach. I'm not really involved in any other situation, but speaking about him as a coach and a person, [I have] the utmost respect and zero reservations; zero.”
2. Stephon Gilmore picking it up: New England’s pass defense was once again solid in the win over Miami, holding Matt Moore to 215 yards through the air while picking off the veteran backup twice. The first interception was a key one, coming with Moore throwing into the end zone down 21-10 in the final seconds of the first half.
That’s when Gilmore undercut Moore’s throw for DeVante Parker, high-pointing the ball for the interception that kept the visitors from making a competitive game of it.
“I thought he had good leverage on the play,” Belichick said after watching film of the key turnover. “He did a good job when he kind of caught up to Parker on the route looking back for the ball and going up and making a play on it. I thought he did a nice job of playing his responsibilities with good technique, good leverage and then just turned at the right time when he should have as he moved close to the receiver, to Parker.”
Belichick went on to note that it was part of a pretty good all-around performance for both Gilmore and the defensive backfield as a group.
“I thought Stephon had a solid game. I thought our entire secondary covered competitively against a very good group of receivers,” Belichick concluded.
*3. Eric Lee did a “really good job” in NFL/Patriots debut: *The Patriots talent and depth on the edge of the defensive front has been an issue all season. Last week the area was even more notable with the release of veteran Cassius Marsh and Lee being signed off the practice squad in Buffalo. The former undrafted rookie arrived in New England having never played in an NFL game, but was thrown into the fire on Sunday against Miami, at least in part due to injuries to Trevor Reilly, Marquis Flowers and Kyle Van Noy.
Less than a week after arriving in Foxborough, Lee responded well. He saw 25 snaps on defense, much of it late in the game. He notched four solo tackles, including his first career sack.
The performance – both in terms of preparation and production – certainly impressed his new head coach.
“First of all, I think Eric worked hard this week to try and catch up in a lot of areas. Defensively, there were a number of things – first down, second down, third down – it's not all the same. I think he really worked hard to get caught up in those areas,” Belichick lauded. “He made a play at the end of the game. He (also) really had a lot to do with the sack that Trey Flowers got down in the red area where Flowers was actually unblocked, but Lee powered [Sam] Young on the other side and kind of collapsed the pocket. He was in on a couple of running plays. We'll see how it goes, but I think given the circumstances that he played in, did a really good job for us. We'll see if he can build on that this week and see where that takes us. I'm not sure, but it was good to have him and I thought he gave us some contributions that we needed.”