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Unfiltered Notebook 12/16: Experience and freedom keying Patriots shutdown secondary

Experience and a relentless drive to improve have made Patriots secondary the best in the NFL.


Patriots players were off on Monday after a bounce-back win over the Cincinnati Bengals that saw them go over 30 points for the first time since October.

Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo spoke with the media in the morning as the team prepared to turn the page to the Buffalo Bills on a short week with the game coming on Saturday. With four interceptions in the game, the secondary was the main topic of conversation.

It's a veteran group, led by a trio of three-time Super-Bowl-winning safeties, a shutdown corner and a collection of young players and vets who have coalesced perfectly together. With that amount of experience, the coaches have been able to loosen the reigns and let the players adjust to what they're seeing.

"I'd say that those guys have a lot of freedom within the defense to do what they think is the best thing to do in certain calls and certain situations, and I think they've done a great job of that all year," said Belichick. "It's really, probably, been one of the best things that we've done in the secondary is let those guys see what the formation looks like, where the threats are lined up and how to deal with them, and they've done an excellent job of putting themselves in good positions to make plays."

Stephon Gilmore chipped in two of the interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. Currently tied for the league lead in picks, Gilmore's short memory and relentless work ethic were highlighted by Belichick as reasons for his success this season, one that has him as a Defensive Player of the Year favorite.

"Steph works extremely hard, but I think he'd be the first one to tell you that at the position he plays, you're only as good as your last play or your last game," said Belichick. "And I think that's really the key to the sustained success is that mentality of starting all over again and not resting on any laurels or accolades that have come in the past, but being focused on the next challenge and knowing that your opponents are going to work extra hard to try to find a weakness in your game."

As a former player, Jerod Mayo has special appreciation for how Gilmore shows up day in and day out and credited that as the cornerback's most valuable asset

"You see him in practice, this is a guy no matter what the drill is, no matter what the situation is, he's always out there competing, trying to get better, working on his craft," said Mayo. "And it definitely trickles down to the rest of the guys. If I had to say one thing, I would say just his overall work ethic."

J.C. Jackson grabbed two interceptions as well in the victory, giving him five on the season. Since making the team as an undrafted rookie in 2018, Jackson has continued to develop and improve.

"J.C. is way ahead of where he was last year," said Belichick. "He was very productive for us last year and made a lot of big plays, and we used him in some of our four-corner packages – like, for example, in the Kansas City Championship Game on [Travis] Kelce. And then this year, he's really built on his awareness on his overall fundamentals and techniques. Those two plays he made on the ball were both extremely good plays. But yeah, he's done a really good job in his growth and development and improvement on the little fundamental things of his game."

The biggest benefit of having such a deep and experienced secondary is that they all make each other better.

"Those guys work hard, they push each other and bring the best out of each other, whether it's preparation, or training, conditioning, on-the-field play," said Belichick. "So, it's really a great group to work with and I think they all – as I said – they all really push each other."

WEEI Brady Sound Bites

Tom Brady on The Greg Hill Show if he takes the AFC East division championship for granted.

"Heck no! This is so hard to do. I think if anything you appreciate it more. It's so hard, man. This is a level playing field. It's not like we ever get top five picks. It's not like we play the easiest schedules. The whole league is meant to bring everyone back to 8-8 every year. You know the fact that we qualified for the playoffs 11 straights years, these things are hard to do. We put the work in every day and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. It's a grind. It's a great challenge. And I think when you accomplish something as a team it's a great feeling and no one can ever take those things away from you. This year has had its challenges, its adversities like every other year. If we win, it's a great accomplishment and it's going to be an incredibly tough game because it's one of the best teams in the NFL."

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