Belichick says it with feeling


Belichick says it with feeling

After Sunday's Patriots game, I tuned in to Bill Belichick's press conference, hoping for a good laugh. I envisioned question after question from reporters trying to bait the coach into waxing on the AFC Championship Game followed Belichick stonewalling them in the most awkward way possible.

"I'm not really worried about which game it is," he'd mumble. "Just focused on the Ravens. They're a good team. Great competitors."

But in real life, Belichick took the stage and something was different. He was still far from cheerful, but unlike a typical Belichick presser, the coach was actually engaged. He was present. And while there was still a heavy helping of deflective cliches, many of his answers were filled with actual substance, perspective, and believe it or not, emotion.

"Of course were excited to be heading into the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens," he said. "Its a great honor, really, to participate in the game; to be playing for the right to represent the AFC the following week."

Excuse me. Did he just say excited?

"Tom has meant a lot to us since hes been here," Belichick said about Brady's setting the record for postseason wins. "He started winning playoff games the first year he really got a chance to participate in them. Tom is a great competitor. He had a great week of preparation as he always does for every game but especially the playoff games. Hes our leader and we all follow him, we all respect him and he led the team today, along with a lot of other guys but he certainly did his job, as hes done many times before. Theres no quarterback Id rather have than Tom Brady."

OK, maybe it's not out of the ordinary for the coach to throw praise on Brady, but this answer was heartfelt. It came from a deeper side of Belichick that's very rarely on display when he's standing at the podium.

And then this morning, during a conference call with the media, Belichick was asked about Sunday's struggles in kick off coverage.

"Overall our kickoff coverage has been one of the best things weve done all year," he said. "Were right at the top of the league in kickoff coverage. We didnt have a good play in the San Francisco game and then we had three bad plays yesterday, but overall thats been probably as consistent as anything weve done as a football team for the entire season."
Honestly, if I had shown you the above quote out of context and asked: "Which NFL coach said this?"

Would you have ever guessed Bill Belichick?

I wouldn't have, but after watching yesterday's press conference, it all makes sense. Belichick's honesty was reminder of something that I had very clearly forgot, even though it comes up every time the Pats are fortunate enough to make it this far.

That is: When it comes to the AFC Championship Game, not even Bill Belichick's immune to getting caught up in the excitement. After all, this is what it's all about. The act, the games, the secrecy, the cliches. It's all in the name of the opportunity that stands before the Patriots this Sunday. One win for a trip back to the Super Bowl. Even the coach has to smile.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

Click here for the complete story

Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up


Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up

FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots traded AJ Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick earlier this week, they were left with just two tight ends on their roster. While those two tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett -- have played as two of the best tight ends in football this season, it's a position group that has been considerably thinned. 

Until coach Bill Belichick adds another player at that spot, James Develin would be the logical "next man up." A position group unto himself as the team's lone active fullback -- the other fullback in the locker room is practice-squad player Glenn Gronkowski -- Develin meets with Patriots tight ends and coach Brian Daboll on a daily basis because the fullback and tight-end responsibilities in the Patriots offense are similar, particularly in the run game.

As much time as he spends with that group, Develin tries to absorb what he can when it comes to the nuances of the position. 

"I always kind of try to prepare, obviously, for my fullback role, but then in any other role that I might be called upon for," Develin said on Thursday. "A couple years ago, we had a bunch of injuries during the offseason program, during OTAs, and I filled in a little bit at tight end. I try to keep myself familiar with all those techniques and that tight end role so if the day were to come where I needed to go out there and do it, I'd be able to go out there and do it."

When the Patriots began the season relying more on the run, Develin was called upon to play a relatively significant role in the offense. He averaged 21.3 snaps per game through the first three games of the season, but that number has fallen to 13.6 since Tom Brady's return from a four-game suspension. Still, his role can be a critical one. 

The Patriots' running game faltered last season after both Blount and Dion Lewis went down with season-ending injuries. Having Develin in the mix as an extra blocker would not have guaranteed a more efficient attack, but it may have helped the team's running-game woes late in the year. 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now has the luxury of bringing Develin onto the field when he wants some added muscle for his blocking schemes, and should the Patriots need a tight end in a pinch, Develin could do that too.

"A lot of times, especially in the blocking game, really the only difference [between fullback and tight end] is that I'm five yards off the ball in the backfield and they're up on the line," Develin said. "The angles are a little bit different. But a lot of times the assignment is typcially the same thing. It's just the technique of getting there and the angles that you take.

"Then in the passing game, as a tight end, there's just a lot more routes and stuff like that. I try to work on that to help me as a fullback to be a little bit better in space . . . It's a sybiotic relationship." 

As it is, Develin will line up occasionally outside. Though not a threat as a receiver in that spot in the same way that Gronkowski or Bennett would be, he understands some of the different looks tight ends have to be comfortable with.

If an emergency arose and he was asked to fill that role, he wouldn't hesitate.

"There's a little bit of carry-over depending on what we're doing or whatever play we have called where I'll line up on the line," he said. "But that's kind of what a fullback has to do. You kind of have to be able to be thrown into whatever position on the field that you gotta do and you gotta just do your job."