Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick addressed the media Monday morning amidst a somber mood at Gillette Stadium. Less than a day after his team put together an impressive 27-24 overtime win over the Miami Dolphins, Belichick reflected on the fact that the team's 9-7 record simply wasn't enough to earn a playoff berth in the highly competitive AFC.
But as much as Belichick was disappointed in the sudden end to the Patriots season that came when the New York Jets defeated the Green Bay Packers, the coach was quick to reaffirm the pride he expressed for his team in yesterday's post-game comments.
"As I said yesterday after the game that was a performance that I told the players that I was very proud and complimentary of, the way they fought and persevered through the game and through a tough situation," Belichick said Monday morning. "[They] came back and did a lot of good things at the end of the game. They showed the courage and the heart that I think this team has displayed on a number of occasions. Obviously the mood today is a lot different than it was in the locker room yesterday at four o'clock, and the disappointment of winning that game but not being in the playoffs has settled in. So it's a bittersweet end to the season."
"So, with that being said, we're going through the process, it's beginning today, and it'll extend well into the off-season as a staff and as an organization to evaluate not only the year, but ourselves and players and everybody involved and try to find ways that we can do things a little bit better than we did them," Belichick said. "Whether it be running the ball, defending the run, converting third downs, covering kickoffs, returning punts, whatever it happens to be, try to address each and every one of those things. Our teaching procedures, our scouting methods, our game plan installations, our training camp schedules, you name it, it'll all be talked about, evaluated, addressed and assessed to try to determine what things we can do better. That's the off-season process that starts today, and as I said we'll continue deep into it and believe me, no final or concrete decisions have been made by me or probably anybody else with regard to the future of the football team. I just don't think 24 hours after the game is the time to make them. Certainly there are a lot of things we've got to look at, but how they'll be resolved, that'll come in due course."
After an early morning team meeting, Patriots players left Gillette Stadium to begin an offseason that started much earlier than they had hoped. In the course of a few hours Sunday evening, the players rode a roller coaster of emotions from a possible chance to defend their championship, to elimination from the postseason.
But as much as the players felt the emotions that come with the abrupt end to the season, they know that they could have done things throughout the season that would have changed the outcome of the season.
"It kind of felt like false hopes," Linebacker Roman Phifer said Monday morning. "You're all excited and on a high and then you get home a few hours later and you're feeling bad. But you really can't be mad because we had opportunities. We can't leave our destiny in someone else's hands, and that's what it came down to. We didn't play well enough to control our own fate."
"We let some things slip away at various points in the season," Special teams captain Larry Izzo said. "We lost some big games late in the season and you're going to watch the playoffs and it's going to make your stomach sick knowing that this is a team that we feel that we had a shot. We just didn't make it happen when we needed to and that's disappointing and this next month, watching the playoffs, I don't even know if I'm going to watch them because it makes you that disgusted watching those games."
"Looking back on the season it's kind of tough to digest everything right now," Linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "I think giving it some time, get home, just kind of relax, and look back and think about everything that went on. This team is going to stay together and we've learned that, we just have to play hard in this league, and week in and week out there's just some little things that make the difference."
Vrabel went on to say that every player now has to go into the offseason and begin the work process to prepare for next season. Regardless of the fact that they will have the extra motivation of not making the playoffs, the players need to prepare like they are fighting for their jobs at all times, because in reality they are.
"I think there's always motivation in this league every year," Vrabel said. "I think that personnel wise they're trying to replace you and as a player you're trying to keep your job. So really it's important to understand that there's no such thing as 110%, you can only get to 100. And that's all you can do."
But as much as people will want to look back at the season and want to make changes and try to fix things immediately, Belichick said that process will be a long one that he will undertake after taking some time off to step away from the current emotional nature of the situation.
"I'm definitely going to take a little bit of time to just not think about football for a little bit and try to start fresh," Belichick said. "When you get to the end of the season, naturally the thoughts that are in my mind now are the ones that are most recent. The Miami game is a lot more in my mind than the Pittsburgh game. It's a lot more in my mind than the Oakland game. So, I think it's good to try to step back and wipe the slate clean, so to speak, and then address the season as a whole. Not that the Miami game isn't important, not that the Oakland game isn't important, not that the Pittsburgh game wasn't important, but in the end, try to look at the season as a whole and look at your team as a whole over 16 games and over the whole course of the season and not one specific game. At the same time, I think it's probably more important to look at the games that the team didn't do well in and try to identify what were the major problems in those games. Again, not to lose sight of the strengths that maybe helped you win the nine games that you won, but specifically to look at what were the problems that caused you to lose the seven games that you lost to help assess the overall season. So, yeah I will definitely step back and try to give the dust a chance to settle and then take a look and see what we've got."
So while Belichick was anything but happy to be partaking in a season wrap-up press conference in the month of December, he was quite realistic about the status of his team. He acknowledged that what the team had done this season simply wasn't enough, but was hesitant to make any hasty comments or decisions. There is plenty of time for all of that. Today was the first day of a long offseason. There is a lot of work to do in terms of personnel and attempting to bounce back from a disappointing season. But after yesterday's win, the one thing that can never be questioned is the heart that runs from top to bottom in this Patriots organization.
*For more of Bill Belichick's comments and those of the players, the transcripts can be found right here on Patriots.com. *