Faulk announces retirement, lauded by Belichick

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Faulk announces retirement, lauded by Belichick

FOXBORO -- The play call was "65-under H-pick."

It was 3rd-and-10 at their own 6-yard line. The Patriots had a 13-3 lead over the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in the 2004-05 Divisional Round of the playoffs, with just under 14 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Who else would Tom Brady go to in that situation?

As usual, Kevin Faulk took Brady's short pass to the right side, which was thrown behind him, and turned it into an 11-yard gain for a first down. The Patriots continued to drive down the field, and Brady finished a 14-play, 93-yard drive with a QB sneak for a touchdown, giving New England a commanding 20-3 lead, and taking an extra 7:24 off the clock in the process.

"We didn't run the pick with Kevin like we usually did," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick as he flashed back to the play on Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium. "We ran the 'close.' And Tom threw him the ball. It was a tough catch. It was behind him, he had to reach back and make the catch. He gained 11 yards on that. And that was the key play, really, in that 93-yard drive that pretty much ate up the rest of the clock in that tough game. And it was his only catch of the game. And I think that really summarizes Kevin to me."

Faulk was the ultimate team player. His mismatch-at-all-times, third-down-dominance allowed the Patriots to rely on him more than anyone else on the team in critical situations, like the one in 2004 against the Colts, which Belichick went out of his way to point out on Tuesday while praising his former running back during Faulk's retirement press conference at Gillette Stadium.

"The bigger the situation, the more critical the play, the better he played, the more you could count on him," said Belichick.

But it wasn't always like that.

Both Faulk and Belichick told stories of a time when neither really knew what to expect from the other.

Faulk was drafted by New England in 1999. Belichick arrived in 2000.

Belichick admitted on Tuesday that his first season (5-11) was a "rocky" one. After the 2000 season, both Faulk and Belichick were trying to figure out where the other stood, what they were going to be about, and how it was going to work from there on out.

Coming from LSU, Faulk was still trying to grasp Foxboro Stadium as a "professional" stadium.

"When I first got on the property, I wanted to go back to Louisiana," said Faulk. "It was one of those things, like, 'Wow, this is what professional football is?' But it's one of those things that you learn to deal with. Deal with it, make the best of your opportunity, and move on. And sure enough, a few years later, look what they have. Look what Mr. Kraft has built here. One of the best organizations in the NFL."

Before it became that, Belichick remembers talking to Faulk, who told Belichick he wanted to do whatever was needed to be a part of the organization. So, Belichick told him just that.

"I'd say, in my coaching career, nobody has ever worked harder to do the things that he was asked to do, from that season on," said Belichick. "From ball security, to blitz pickup, having different roles in the game, and that changing from week to week. Kevin was just so adept at figuring out his role, and doing it the very best that he could. He was the ultimate team player, the hardest worker, always well prepared.

"I can't remember asking a question at a team meeting that he didn't have the right answer to."

Now, over 10 years later, Belichick no longer has Faulk in those team meetings. And as he pointed out, it's the first Patriots team that Belichick has coached, without Faulk.

While Faulk announced on Tuesday that he was officially retiring as a Patriot, he also remembers the early days with Belichick.

"For a very, very long time, it was hard for me to figure out who you were," said Faulk as he looked over at Belichick with a smile. "And how you worked. But I knew one thing. If I did my job, I was alright."

Faulk did his job, and quickly proved his worth to the organization, as a running back and a leader. And eventually, he was able to figure out just what type of person Belichick was, saying he was "shocked" at what he saw when he was able to go one-on-one with his head coach.

"In a team setting, he's got you," said Faulk. "You can't win with Bill. You can't win, you can't win nothing with Bill. But when you go one-on-one with him and sit down in his office, it's totally different."

The two would talk about different football strategies, and Belichick would teach Faulk different angles to approach the game from.

"As a player that makes it to the professional leagues, you think that you know everything," said Faulk. "Nah, not with Bill. There's always some insight that he has that will make you a better football player."

Faulk leaves the game with three Super Bowl championships, five conference championships, and nine division titles in his 13 NFL seasons -- all with New England.

There are many memories from the championship days. But one memory of Faulk that sticks out in Belichick's mind, doesn't involve a Super Bowl. It doesn't even involve the playoffs.

Because in 2008, the Patriots -- 11 wins and all -- didn't even make the playoffs. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a special season for Faulk.

"It's probably one that not many people realized what Kevin did for us that year," said Belichick on Tuesday.

Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season-opener. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel replaced him, with little-to-no NFL experience. The Patriots would look to Cassel to lead them the rest of the way. And even though they didn't advance to the postseason, the Patriots still had an impressive 11-win campaign.

"But it wasn't really Matt's team," said Belichick. "Ultimately, Matt grew into the role of the great leader and quarterback that he was that season. But it didn't really start that way."

Belichick praised Faulk's leadership that season, especially early on, when Brady went down, and when Cassel was stepping into foreign territory.

Offensvely, the Patriots were desperate to find some type of leadership. And in that moment, Belichick called Faulk "the glue to hold the team together."

"That's one of the many times that you saw Kevin really come forward and be truly the leader of our football team, in that season," said Belichick. "He's the guy who kept the adhesion, offensively, and ultimately Matt took over that role as the quarterback should. But, Kevin was very instrumental in that."

It's part of the reason that Faulk remained with the organization for so long. The Patriots knew what Faulk meant to them. And Faulk knew what he meant to the Patriots.

And as owner Robert Kraft put it, during Tuesday's retirement ceremony, in the "how much are you gonna pay me" day and age, Faulk's team-first, unselfish persona was a breath of fresh air. And it was something they never would have expected.

"I have to admit, when I first met Kevin in 1999, you couldn't have convinced me that he would be with us for 13 years, and be the number one team leader in all-purpose yards," said Kraft. "I knew that he was the second-leading rusher in the SEC behind Herschel Walker. But, running backs don't usually last 13 years in this league. Especially running backs, that we call 'modest height' -- 5-8 and around 200 pounds. You're our hero, Kevin."

Faulk stood before his family, friends, former teammates, and fans on Tuesday, announcing his retirement. While doing so, he opened up about a few things.

He said the Baltimore Ravens were the toughest teams to play against, mainly because of Ray Lewis' presence on defensive.

He said he got the biggest thrill in his NFL career whenever he picked up a blitz.

"Coming into the NFL, it was one of the things that I wasn't too good at," Faulk admitted. "It just wasn't something that we did in college. And I actually learned how to do it. I actually got real good at it. And it really excited me.

"When you're playing, guys on the football field look at you, and they're like, 'Oh, I'm gonna run this guy over.' My mindset is, 'I've got another thing for you.'"

He also playfully criticized officials for his 4th-and-2 play against the Colts in 2009, saying, "Hell yeah that was a bad spot."

He even did something on Tuesday, that he normally doesn't do. He flashed all three of his Super Bowl rings. He put them on, extended his fingers, and let the cameras flash.

Faulk officially said goodbye to football on Tuesday. Before doing so, he admitted to receiving calls from two other NFL clubs, who were looking to extend his career.

But Faulk didn't even think twice.

"It didn't matter. I knew where my heart was," he said.

And now, so does everyone else.

Felger: Sorry, Tom, but Jimmy G. and Brissett need to play Friday

Felger: Sorry, Tom, but Jimmy G. and Brissett need to play Friday

If there's any Patriots quarterback who should be getting meaningful time other than Jimmy Garoppolo on Friday in Carolina, it's not Tom Brady. It's Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, obviously, will be the Patriots backup the first four games of the year, and the team has yet to go through the annual preseason exercise of subjecting him to the situation under which he's most likely to see time during the regular season. Typically, Bill Belichick will yank the starting QB out of the first half of an exhibition game unannounced and tell the backup to throw on his helmet and get out there. Brissett has yet to go through it, and you have to figure it's coming in the next two weeks.

Other than that, Garoppolo should see all the time while the starters are on the field. He's had little success going against the opposition's starters so far this month and needs every rep he can get. He needs to go through the routine of starting a prime-time game on the road, which will be the case Sept. 11 in Arizona.

Where does that leave Tom Brady? Stewing, probably. It's clear he wants to play. It's clear he wasn't happy missing last Thursday against Chicago and is pining for work Friday. If you were wondering how Brady would feel about losing time in training camp to Garoppolo as the Pats got ready for the regular season, you probably have your answer. He's not a fan.

There is a case to be made that the team and Belichick, in particular, owes Brady some love. Deflategate was dropped in Brady's lap from the start, and while the coach skated, the quarterback's sentence has finally become a reality. The Pats should want to make Brady happy. He deserves the respect.

But, ultimately, we ask the fallback Patriots question: What's best for the team? The answer isn't even close. Garoppolo deserves every snap, save for that potential emergency exercise with Brissett.

As for Brady's feelings? He'll get over it.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz week days, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. Watch the simulcast daily on CSN.

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.