FOXBORO -- As a good friend of Alabama coach Nick Saban, Bill Belichick had a rooting interest in Monday night's national championship game between Clemson and the Crimson Tide. Even with a Divisional Round matchup with the Texans less than a week away, and even with the college title game finishing well after midnight, the Patriots coach was watching.
But Belichick wasn't watching strictly to support his pal Saban, whose team fell to Clemson late in the fourth quarter, 35-31. It was a chance to do a little advanced scouting on two of the most talented college rosters in the country.
"We'll see what it looks like in a couple of months, but I'd say there's a lot of good football players on the field," Belichick said. "Some of whom I knew about. Some of whom I need to find out more about. I remember watching that game last year and watching it probably, [had to] be at least 10 times in the offseason because there's so many players.
"The ones that played last year and didn't play this year or are being replaced by guys that are going to be a factor in the NFL that are now draft-eligible. And you get to see them against other players that are comparable. Whether they're draft eligible or not, guys playing in this game are pretty good. If they're not draft eligible this year, they'll be draft-eligible next year or soon thereafter.
"Competitively it's a great game to watch. It was a great game to watch last year . . . Just from a competitive standpoint, two great teams, two great programs. Again, coming down to a play. You got a lot of points scored like that, it's a lot of plays, but in the end, it's one or two plays that go the other way, you get a different result. That's the level of competition we're talking about."
Down three points with two minutes remaining in the game, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson drove the Tigers 68 yards in nine plays and found receiver Hunter Renfrow for a goal-line score to win it.
When Belichick was asked about the game during his Tuesday morning press conference, he said it exemplified the type of game fans of pro football and college football alike can expect at this time of year.
"Games like that, any play can be a big play, whether it's a conventional play . . . or just a great player making a great play, or a situation play," Belichick said. "It's fourth-and-one . . . I mean in the end the national championship came down to a yard. We've been in that situation before. Both ways.
"That's the kind of football you see this time of year. Whether it be the NC level or the NFL playoffs. You get a lot of games like that, that come down to one play, one yard defines an entire season. You gotta be prepared for that."