Bagging up the Patriots season


Bagging up the Patriots season

By Tom E. Curran

FOXBORO - "It feels like we lost the Super Bowl," said outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. How so? "Because that's what losing in the playoffs mean," he explained. "You lose the game and the chance to win the Super Bowl, too, both at once."As the Patriots quietly bagged up the belongings from their lockers - all manners of cleats, letters, t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. - they stopped to reflect early Monday afternoon on a season halted before they were ready for it to end. But the page-turning was underway as well. "There's still a little disappointment floating around, but we still have a lot of stuff to look forward to," said wide receiver Deion Branch. Like?"Next season," he pointed out. "We can't dwell on this year. The bigger picture we can all look at is that, the season didn't end the way we wanted it to end, but once we look at itI think we still have a lot of stuff to hang our hats on. We had a great year. Finished 14-2. Best team in the league in the regular season, but we weren't in the postseason. We see the things we need to tighten up on. You have to look at all the teams that are still playing, we beat all those teams."He's right. TheJets, Steelers, Bears and Packers all got laid low by New England. Now the Patriots aregoing to have to lie low for the next few months and lick the sizable wound leftby the Jets. Branch said Belichick highlighted the good in the season-closing address to the team Monday."He spoke about a lot of things,a lot of positive things," said Branch. "Even though the situation ended with negative, he spoke about a lot of positive things."Many Patriots will now light out for their homes. Those with rehab responsibilities - like kicker Stephen Gostkowski and outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich (torn LCL on Sunday) - will be around the facility as they get back to full strength. Defensive tackle Gerard Warren is one of the veterans who'll be a free agect when the seaon ends. He doesn't want to go anwhere else. The reason? "Professionalism. And a mission statement that says finishing the way we finished is not how we want to finish. The season is not a good season without winning it all. I could play for that forever."

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Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.