For the second straight week, Bill Belichick gave his Patriots players Monday after a game off, rather than the typical Tuesday. This issue this week is the unorthodox travel schedule involving the team heading to London for the NFL International Series game against the St. Louis Rams. New England will depart for the United Kingdom on Thursday evening, so, the coaching staff is trying to cram as much preparation in before take-off.
Before they could do that, though, Belichick and his two coordinators held conference calls with the media this afternoon to put a wrap on the 29-26 overtime win over AFC East foe New York yesterday. The game's final play – Rob Ninkovich's strip-sack of QB Mark Sanchez and subsequent fumble recovery – was one that left Belichick impressed.
"We've seen Rob do that several times already this year – Buffalo, Denver. It's not just sacking the quarterback, but as you go to tackle him, having an awareness of where the ball is," the head coach explained.
"Rob's done that on numerous occasions. He has good feel for that. That's just an instinctive play that we coach and talk about, but it's really the player's awareness. It's a game-changing play. Heads-up play by Rob."
That play in particular was a bright spot for the Patriots defense, but the play of the secondary overall was not. Once again, the defensive backfield gave up far too many big pass plays.
On the conference call with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, one reporter tried valiantly to get Patricia to fess us about what's impeding the progress of this group. All Patricia would say was that the entire defense was just "trying to get better."
The reporter pressed, even asking pointedly if it was coaching or the players themselves that are the root of the problem, but Patricia kept falling back on the same response.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a bit more forthcoming when asked about his unit's struggles with holding leads at the end of games this season. Consistency, he said, was the main problem.
"We didn't have a lot of negative plays [against the Jets]: one negative run, a sack, some penalties thrown in there," McDaniels pointed out. "We had some missed opportunities. Whether we're close on them or not, it doesn't really matter till you make them. We had some errors we can correct and fix so we can continue to keep drives alive.
"It's never really one thing," he added. "No matter what we choose to do, what mode we're in – whether we're using our up-tempo, huddling, trying to run the football, throw it – it comes down to trying to make the best call we can in hopes of putting the players in the right situation to be successful, and going out and executing in those pressure situations. Which is really what it is."
McDaniels also spoke candidly about receiver Brandon Lloyd, who had just one catch despite being thrown to eight times.
"A couple of those [incompletions] would have been great catches," McDaniels admitted. "We always anticipate he's going to [make them] because he has so many times previously."
There wasn't much time to dwell on the Jets, though. In fact, the Patriots coaching staff already began its work on the Rams, who themselves are already en route to London. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher elected to take his team a few days earlier than the Patriots (they board a flight this evening to arrive early Tuesday morning), as it is the Rams' first visit.
New England, of course, has done this once before, in 2009, and is sticking to its formula from that initial sojourn (leaving on Thursday, returning on Monday).
"Organizationally, it probably helps to have been through that," said Belichick. "We have an awful lot of players on our team that are with us now that weren't on that trip. Individually, there isn't a great deal of experience with that, but organizationally, there are things we can plan for that we dealt with the last time.
"The needs of this team are a little different than the '09 team. There are some things that are definitely unique to this trip, but certainly some things we can reflect back on and use in our preparation."
Belichick was asked if he's excited to go back to historic Wembley Stadium for the NFL's annual showcase game in Great Britain.
"Wherever they schedule them," he resopnded, "we'll show up and play them."
Well, now, if that doesn't get you excited for some football… what will?
*The Patriots are back at Gillette Tuesday morning for meetings and treatment. They'll have a walkthrough practice in the afternoon, then have a normal Wednesday of work. Thursday will be an early morning start before the team leaves in the early evening for London. *