Sunday evening in Denver Bill Belichick compared his team's season-ending loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game to a "crash landing."
Monday morning, back in the media work room at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots coach began the process of picking up the pieces from the disappointing end to a promising 2015 season and turning the page to 2016. Belichick's usual day-after-game meeting with the media turned into a day-after-season session that combined queries about the loss in Denver, longer-term questions about the overall year that was and bigger-picture thoughts on moving forward.
Belichick made it quite clear this winter project of turning to 2016 will be handled just as it has in every other year of his tenure. There will be plenty of self-scouting and analysis in phases of the organization – "we evaluate everything."
In regards to failures in the Rocky Mountains that led to the earlier-than-hoped offseason for the defending Super Bowl Champions, Belichick also made it clear the responsibly doesn't fall on any one player, play or area of the team. It was, indeed, a systematic coming up short.
"It's the same basic feeling that 30 other teams have," Belichick said of the end of the season. "And another team is going to have it next week."
Belichick said there was a lot to do on Monday, as he'd also be meeting with many of his players for the last time for a "period of time" as the NFL offseason is officially underway in Foxborough.
Here are a few key takeaways from Belichick's final meeting of the season with the gathered New England media as he put the wraps on the season, the loss in Denver and detailed what lies ahead:
1. "A disappointing feeling this time of year":When you don't have any expectation that your season will end, that can make the finality of the loss even more impactful. But that didn't take away from what the Patriots accomplished in 2015, or even the way they fought to the finish in what was a uphill battle all evening Sunday in the Rocky Mountains. But, the reality is New England came up short. Belichick opened his morning press conference by looking both back and ahead.
"After going through the game this morning I feel pretty much the same as I did last night. Lot of respect for the way our team competed, proud of it," Belichick said. "We had guys battling right till the very last play, with a chance to tie or win, however you want to look at it. I think each of us that competed in the game, players, coaches, all feel the same way. [We'd] like to probably have a couple plays, couple calls, couple whatevers that we'd all like to have back in a close game like that. I think you always feel that way. This is no different. Denver is a good football team. We had some opportunities, but in the end came up just a little bit short. It's obviously a disappointing feeling at this time of year.
"We'll turn the page here and move on. And start the process all over again. That's where we are at."
The loss, though, doesn't erase what was a 13-win season and a lot of positive accomplishments over a long fall and too-short winter.
"We did a lot of good things. We won a lot of games," Belichick summarized. "And came up short in the end. So it's bittersweet."
2. Loss not on anyone one play, player or group: The immediate analysis of the loss in Denver included plenty of media and fans alike trying to quickly serve up varying portions of blame pie. Belichick was targeted for his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 with around six minutes to play rather than cut an eight-point lead with a short field goal. Stephen Gostkowski gave himself the entire blame for the loss thanks to his miss of a first-quarter PAT. And many pointed to an offensive line that allowed four sacks and 20 hits on Tom Brady by a ferocious Von Miller/DeMarcus Ware-led pass rush as the key failure.
Not surprisingly, Belichick wasn't looking to pin-point the blame publicly, certainly not when it came to Gostkowski.
"Steve is a great kicker. He had a great year for us," Belichick said. "As I said at the beginning, I think every player, coach and participant in the game whishes there was a couple things they could have done differently. I feel that way. Everybody I've talked to feels that way. I can't imagine anybody that participated in the game doesn't feel that way.
"I feel like it's my fault. I'm sure all the other players that played feel like it's their fault."
Belichick also noted that pressure and hits on the quarterback, aren't always attributed to just the offensive line. It's a group effort and failure.
"I'd say it was a combination of things," Belichick said. "Denver did a good job defensively. So, it's all interconnected between the receivers, the quarterback, the offensive line, the timing, the execution, the balance in the running game, longer yardages situations. It's all part of it. And in the end it just wasn't as good as it needed to be yesterday. Period. In any area. I wouldn't put it on any one guy or any one situation or one position or anything like that. Just in the end we came up short.
3.Tablets, taking the ball and more: There were a bunch of little issues that cropped up during the game that Belichick also addressed in his final presser of the year. CBS made a big deal of the fact that the Patriots had problems on the sideline with their Microsoft Surface tablets early in the game. New England's coach, though, downplayed the relative importance of the technological failure.
"It is what it is. It's a pretty common problem. We have ways of working through it. There is really nothing you can do," Belichick said, though he noted the team always has its traditional printed photos on hand for use. "You deal with what you deal with. We've had it at home. We've had it on the road. Other teams have had it. It's a fairly common problem. That didn't affect the outcome of the game. No way."
Belichick has had his team receive the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss just twice dating back rule changes in 2008 that allowed teams to defer. Sunday in Denver he did it for a third time.
"It was a combination of factors. We felt that was the best way to go," Belichick said, though he made it clear weather was not a consideration.
And, now that Belichick is getting caught up on pre-Draft work with the Combine just a month away, he has an open mind heading toward yet another season in his 40-plus-year career.
"We'll do what we always do," Belichick said. "We'll try to make the best decisions we can for the team to put our team in the most competitive position we can for 2016."