FOXBORO -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick makes a point to compliment every opponent he faces. The move is not unique to him, it's standard good sportsmanship.
But Belichick's praise for the Ravens this week was lavish. When he took the podium Friday he commended the team for remaining consistent over the years despite coaching and personnel changes.
New England's bench boss first heaped credit on General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
"He’s a very astute, sometimes quiet kind of guy, but the wheels are always turning, he’s taking a lot in," Belichick said. "When he speaks, you listen because you respect him and you know that he’s just not saying things to hear himself talk. He’s saying them because he’s given it a lot of thought and he has a very important observation or opinion to share."
The pair got to know each other in 1991, in Cleveland, when Belichick took the helm as head coach and Newsome just finished a 13-year stint as a Browns tight end.
"He’s had a great career. I can’t think of many people that did what he did as a player and then in his current position and all the other things along the way – as a scout, as an assistant coach and so forth. He’s a pretty special person, special football person too."
Newsome was named GM of the Ravens in 2002. Super Bowl XLVII, which Baltimore won last season after beating New England in the AFC Championship, was a coup for the underrated team.
And then it got blown up.
No sooner were the Ravens crowned Champions, then the roster was upended. It was out with the old, in with the new. Most of the players released or not re-signed -- regardless of proven talent -- were close to age 30 or over: Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Matt Birk, Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Ray Lewis, 37, saved the team energy by retiring.
Baltimore put its trust in Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, free agents like Elvis Dumervil, and rookies like Matt Elam. Brazen, to try and fix what didn't appear to be broken? Maybe. But Newsome had a vision and saw it through.
The Ravens struggled at the start of this season. They groaned and grated through the first 10 games, going 4-6. The situation looked grim.
What has happened, though, is the pieces have started falling into places. Baltimore is perfect in its last four contests and now legitimately in the playoff hunt. Yes, the team left for dead in mid-November is a threat in December -- again.
Belichick is not surprised. He saw something special in Newsome long ago.
"My first year in Cleveland was Ozzie’s first year not playing. He had retired after the ’90 season and we sat down, it’s one the first things I did when I took the job. We sat down, talked to Ozzie about his future. He wanted to have a future in the organization, he wasn’t sure if it was in coaching or scouting or some other aspect of public relations or player development or whatever it was.
"He did a number of different things for me there. He coached, he was in the scouting department – similar kind of maybe to what Nick [Caserio] has done here, kind of going a little bit back and forth. I think in the end probably all those experiences benefitted him because he got an appreciation of the scouting end, the player end of it – of course he had been a player so he had great familiarity of what it was like to be a player in the NFL – but scouting players, developing players, being a coach, creating game plans, making personnel decisions from a coach, as opposed to as a scout, and all those things."
No, this week's praise of New England's opponent is not lip service; Belichick has sincere respect for Newsome and the Ravens.
Be clear: He would love nothing more than to wipe the floor with Baltimore this Sunday. Regardless of how much esteem Belichick holds for the team's general manager, the Patriots' path to the playoffs ideally continues with a win at M&T Bank Stadium.
But when the coach not only repeats praise but explains what it's born from, it's worth a listen.
"He did a great job for me and I learned an awful lot from him, again because of his experience as a player and how his playing career – he was a wide receiver in college and then he became a tight end so there was a lot of development and progression of his career. Like every player, had a great career, peaked and at the end was at a different point in his career and how that whole transition worked for him.
"He taught me an awful lot about that and just the whole passing game, receiving, being a receiver, playing for different quarterbacks, playing in different offensive systems as he did and so forth. He was a great resource for me. He taught me an awful lot and he’s been very complimentary about his comments of what he learned from me but I think I probably learned more from him than he learned from me."