PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
December 8, 2023
Q: Wanted to just get your thoughts on why we saw such an increase in offensive production last night. What do you think led to that and what were the reasons for it?
BB: It was good execution.
Q: Anything beyond that, your thoughts on Bailey's performance and also what Zeke gave you?
BB: Yeah, well again, offense is a team performance. You've got to block [T.J.] Watt, you've got to block [Cameron] Hayward, you've got to block [Alex] Highsmith or [Nick] Herbig and Elandon Roberts and all those guys. [Minkah] Fitzpatrick and so, the skill guys had obviously the production, but the other guys had to block, get open, catch the ball, throw the ball, so forth. So, it was a good team performance. We tried to keep Watt, number one at bay, that was a priority in the game. At least he didn't ruin the game. Then again, obviously the other guys that I mentioned, those assignments varied on who had them, but ultimately somebody had to do it. Bailey made some good throws. We scored in the red area, which was huge. Those were seven point-plays instead of field goals. For the most part, our ball security offensively was good. We had a tip pass that they made a good play on and intercepted, and obviously the blocked punt. But offensively, ball security was good. The ball wasn't on the ground a lot, the ball was in our hands safely. Those are all the fundamental things that need to be good for you to be successful.
Q: Is it been special that you were able to have a Thursday game this week to allow you to have the full Army-Navy experience with that game in your backyard? What's that mean to you to be able to enjoy the whole thing without a game on Sunday?
BB: Well, it's nice. I won't lie. It's nice. It's nice that the schedule fell the way it did. I would say most years it doesn't fall that way. But, the fact that it did and coincided with the game being in Foxborough is nice. I haven't been able to attend an Army-Navy game like this since I was in college. Even the ones that I've seen, we've had a game the next day in Giants Stadium or the Washington game back in 2009. So, there have been a handful of games that I've seen. But it all is with having to go to a meeting or something like that. So this is really a nice luxury for me. It's been a long time since I've had an opportunity to do this. I'm very much looking forward to it. I think it will be a great classic event for this region. There's really nothing like Army-Navy. I've been in a lot of big games. I've seen a lot of big games. Both collegiately and professionally. But, Army-Navy is special.
Q: Bill, there will be people who are seeing this game live for the first time and maybe the only time in their lives. What would you tell them to make sure they look for, make sure they notice, to make sure to get that experience? Whether it's some of the stuff before or afterward. What is not to be missed?
BB: Well, not to get overly dramatic, but when you go to one of the military academies, you voluntarily agree and sign up to defend our country at all costs, including your life. That's a voluntary decision and a very important one. So, ultimately, these are the men and women that are going to lead our country in the coming years and decades. So, the March On for the Corps of Cadets and the Midshipmen is a pretty impressive thing. You look down and you see 4,000 men and women who are training to be our country's leaders and our country's defenders in the future. It's a pretty impressive moment to recognize all those kids as they're going through the process, and who they're going to be and what's going to come out of there. And the training that they're going through, it makes you very proud to see that. The March On starts about three hours before the game. So, I would recommend that for sure. Again, when you voluntarily take the oath to go to the Naval Academy or go to West Point, you're not thinking about your future as an NFL player or whatever. You're thinking about your career as a military officer and fighting and defending our country. Football is part of it, but there's a bigger part of it for them. Football is a game, but they'll lay it all on the line. As they should and as they will in future years of combat and engagement. So, I think that's what you're seeing, and the intensity of the game and how much it means to both academies. It's a lot. It's really a lot. It's a game that will be followed around the world. Every Army and Navy officer that's stationed wherever they're stationed will be watching or listening to the game or following the game. There'll probably be some wagers and so forth on it in all points around the world. It's very intently viewed, watched, and recognized. Every American has probably some connection to Army or Navy. Through some family member or friend or whatever that served in one of those two branches, or they're associated with the Marine Corps and so forth. So, sometimes you have a regional game that you don't necessarily pick a side in. But, I've learned through the years that everybody has a stake in Army or Navy one way or the other. So, it's a national game that will be followed worldwide. And there'll be a lot riding on it.
Q: Jabrill [Peppers] said after the game yesterday that the win was for you and the coaching staff. Because frankly, he said he doesn't like some of the flack you have received at times this year. What does it mean to hear that from one of your players?
BB: Yeah, well, that's great. But, I would say the big thing for me is what I appreciate is what the players do every day.
Whatever happens on Thursday night or Sunday is certainly in part a big reflection on what happens during the other days of the week. The preparation, the training, the resilience and the determination to improve, to get things right, to make things better. That's what I appreciate about our team, our players, our coaching staff. That's the attitude, that's the way they approach things. So, obviously, a level of frustration with the overall season. But, on a week-to-week basis, you kind of put that aside and focus on the week that you have. Other than two games, really, it's been so competitive every week. It's certainly nice to be on the higher end of the score last night. But, what I appreciate is the players and their effort and their commitment to doing what I and the coaching staff, we have asked them to do, and working hard on it and sacrificing. It's obviously great to see them have that positive result.
Q: Going back to Army-Navy, with respect to the tradition of the game. Specifically, this year, it's in your home stadium, involving an academy in a place that you have spent years. Two places that you've spent a lot of time. What does that mean to you, to have this full circle day tomorrow?
BB: Yeah, it's a very unique opportunity. That, as you said, is really a full circle. I have a great appreciation for the Naval Academy, a great appreciation for this game. It's a thrill for me that, as you said, it's taking place in our stadium. So, I look forward to the people I'm going to see, the classic event that it is. Not just the game, but everything that leads up to it. Starting with some events today and tonight, and hopefully culminating in a Navy win.
Q: I'm just wondering what you've seen from Mack Wilson [Sr.] lately? It just seems like he's been playing really well as of late.
BB: Mack's had a really good year for us. He's had a really good year. I think the additional time, familiarity with the defense has allowed him to... I mean, Mack's very athletic. He's a tremendous athlete. Fast, explosive, very strong, and a very talented player. But, I think it's allowed him to play faster and aggressively. He still has his full role in the kicking game. He has a big role on defense. He's emerged into the pass rush, grouping on third down with a couple of the guys that we've lost there. And he's retained that through his performance.
And I would say overall discipline and communication and role in the defense. You could say that about a lot of the guys, too. But, certainly he's had an outstanding year for us.
He just continues to really get a little bit better every week. It's great to see the growth and the production that he's had. But, [Anfernee] Jennings and Myles [Bryant] and guys like that.
[Christian] Barmore's had a really good year, and a couple of the younger players like Keion [White], who obviously wasn't here last year, but his growth, his development. Those guys have really had an opportunity and they've stepped in and have taken advantage. Last night, again it wasn't a lot of plays, but [Alex] Austin did a good job for us, too in his first opportunity to gain some playing time. So, those are guys that have taken advantage of the opportunity that they've had. Not just on game day, but through preparation during the week, and practice, and one-on-ones and other opportunities to continue to improve, get better. It's nice to see them have that kind of success on the field on game day.
Q: Based on the success from last night's game, is the plan moving forward to stick with Bailey [Zappe] as the starting quarterback?
BB: I'm not going to get into the future plans right now. We have a little bit of extra time this weekend. We'll kind of recalibrate things a little bit. Certainly, Bailey's done a good job. He's earned playing time. But, how exactly that will go, we'll talk about that. I'm not going to announce anything. But everybody will be ready to play. When the players get a chance to play, they'll have an opportunity to show they deserve more playing time, or maybe somebody moves ahead of them. We'll see how it goes. But certainly, he's done a good job in the two opportunities he's had to execute the offense. Again, as I said earlier, I don't think you can put it all on one guy, good or bad. It's a unit performance and a consistency, and certainly a quarterback is a big part of that. I'm not saying that. But, other people have to perform well in addition to that. So, our job and our goal is to get the offensive unit performing well. That includes each player. But, getting the entire unit performing well, that's when we'll have success.
Q: And are you going to encourage players and coaches to try and make it down to the game on Saturday?
BB: Well, I think everybody's got their own schedule. There's certainly a lot of interest in the game. All these guys, with the exception of [Joe] Cardona, haven't played at service academy schools. So, a lot of them are very interested in the uniqueness of this game, and obviously the magnitude of it, the build-up and everything. I think everybody's kind of been caught up in it a little bit. These guys have played in a lot of big games in college and professionally. But as I said, this is a little bit different. I think a lot of guys are getting the feel of it. They ask questions. I know Joe and I fielded a few Army-Navy questions. You can see there's a little bit of divide on the team. Who's for Army and who's for Navy? Everybody has their own loyalties. So, that also has been kind of interesting to see unfold. It's been interesting. As the build-up for the game has increased and peaked, it's been interesting to see the player-team reaction. Like you said, guys asking for tickets, guys want to know questions about the game, stuff like that. It's been kind of interesting.
Q: I was just wondering, this is the second week in a row that you've elevated Malik Cunningham from the practice squad. But he hasn't taken any snaps. I was just curious, what's gone into that decision and if Cunningham is serving as a backup quarterback of sort?
BB: Well, on the practice squad elevations, most of the time those involve depth on your roster. Whether that's in the kicking game or offensively or defensively, whatever the position happens to be. If you don't need that depth in the game, then sometimes those players don't get an opportunity. So, for example, yesterday we elevated Kevin Harris. Kevin had a good week of practice, and had Kevin gotten an opportunity to play, I know he would have been ready to play, and I would have looked forward to seeing him play. But, Zeke [Ezekiel Elliott] was going well. So, we stayed with Zeke. Other than a few passing downs where Ty [Montgomery II] was in there, we stuck with Zeke. So, Kevin didn't get to play either. Same situation as Malik. But again, sometimes those opportunities come in bunches or come in a high number of plays, and sometimes they don't. But ultimately, it's not about trying to get players plays and playing time. It's about trying to win the game and trying to do what's best for the team. If something happened to Zeke last night, we would have needed somebody to play all those plays at running back, and Kevin would have been a big part of that. But, it just didn't turn out that way. So, again, for Malik and everybody else, all the practice squad players, it's about taking advantage of the opportunity to prepare to be active, and then when those opportunities come, take advantage of them. But, we can't control those. It's not a preseason game where you allocate playing time to certain individuals at certain points in time. You competitively try to win the game, and that's what we try to do.