SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Pass! Ball! Bingo!
That's usually the cry you hear from defenders when they're practicing an interception drill.
"Pass" is called out first, after the snap, to alert the rest of the unit that the offense is throwing. "Ball" is shouted when the pass is thrown, and "Bingo" is the magic word for an interception.
The Patriots were able to complete this sequence three times this past Sunday afternoon against the San Francisco 49ers. Each INT came when the ball was tipped up in the air; on two occasions, the player who tipped the ball eventually came down with the pick.
They were spectacular individual plays, but more importantly, they came at critical junctures in the contest, which the Pats ended up winning 30-21 (the team's first-ever win in San Francisco).
"They were big plays in the game," head coach Bill Belichickdeclared Monday in a conference call with reporters.
In the first quarter, after San Fran intercepted New England's Matt Cassel, they had the ball on the Pats 45-yard line. Immediately, they tried to go for the jugular.
"The first play, the 49ers were trying to take a shot down the field and they tossed it up there to [tight end Delanie] Walker."
Pats safety Brandon Meriweatherwas stride for stride with Walker, and the two of them fell backwards after leaping to grab the ball. Meriweather ended up on his back, but the ball ended up in his hands in the shadow of his own goal line.
"I thought Brandon made a real good play on the ball," Belichick added. "He kind of batted it away. Fortunately it came back down in his lap while he was laying on his back."
"I was in the middle of the field and I saw the tight end," Meriweather explained. "I don't think the quarterback saw me, so he kind of threw it up as a lob, and I tipped it. It was kind of luck that it fell to me."
It marked just the second interception of Meriweather's New England career. For a player who had trouble holding on to the ball during his rookie year, the good-natured second-year player admitted he was even a bit taken aback by his acrobatic performance.
"Oh, of course I was surprised. Those kind of plays don't happen to me," he laughed.
The next INT was made by safety Rodney Harrison, who jumped in front of a pass, which deflected off his hands, but came right back down into his awaiting arms. That play took place in the third quarter, just two plays after New England punted the ball following a 6-minute drive to start the second half.
With the Pats up 17-14, the pick set the offense up at the Niners' 24-yard line, helping lead to the second of Kevin Faulk'stwo rushing touchdowns.
"On the second interception, Rodney had a good read on [49ers QB J.T.] O'Sullivan, made a good break on the ball," Belichick continued. "Same thing [as Meriweather's INT], broke it up first, it kind of ricocheted up in the air, and he was able to finish the play."
"Out point of emphasis all week has been to get our hands on some balls to create more turnovers and to be more aggressive," Harrison said Monday afternoon. "So, we came out with that in mind. We knew that [O'Sullivan] was a scrambling quarterback, that he wanted to scramble to throw the ball. I read the play … been studying film on him for almost two weeks … and just came up with it.
"Brandon, he just made an incredible catch. And then Deltha [O'Neal],ended up getting him an interception."
Belichick described that final interception. Down 9 points with about 3 minutes to play, San Francisco was forced to go for it on fourth down.
"The last play was on a crossing pattern. O'Sullivan was scrambling out of the pocket. I think he was trying to just make something happen on fourth down there. It went through Rodney's hands, but fortunately, Deltha was right there behind him. I mean, from a field position standpoint, it would have been better for us actually if he hadn't intercepted it. But it was good to see the ball end up in our hands at the end of the play. So, we'll take it."
"The main thing," Harrison concluded, "was not to give up big plays. Initially, we came out and gave up some big plays and then we calmed down a little bit."
In so doing, the defense made the plays that wound up saving the day for New England.
Welcome to Gillette Stadium West
After defeating San Francisco at Candlestick Park, the Patriots almost immediately got down to the business of resting, recovering, and pouring over the game film – something they wouldn't normally be able to do on a road trip until they returned to Foxborough.
But the Patriots never left California. They're sticking around to prepare for the second half of their West Coast double-dip in San Diego this coming weekend.
"It'll be a normal week for us," Belichick stated during his Monday conference call from the team's makeshift headquarters in Santa Clara, a short drive south of San Francisco.
"We'll treat it right now like it's a home game, because we really didn't travel last night. We're doing the same thing today that we would do on Monday following a home game. And it'll be like that for the entire week until Saturday when we travel [to San Diego]."
Instead of the typical face-to-face interviews that the media conducts in the Pats locker room on Mondays following a game, today's Q&A sessions took place via the phone. Harrison, along with Faulk and fellow running back Sammy Morris, fielded questions for about 20 minutes after they'd finished their team obligations for the day.
The Patriots will have their typical Tuesday off, then get back to work on the practice field on Wednesday. New England is training at nearby San Jose State University. Those practices, as are the norm back home at Gillette Stadium, are closed to the public. The media is allowed a brief period of access to practice, so check back to patriots.com for the latest updates throughout the week.