FOXBORO — Patriots coach Bill Belichick  knew this week would be a challenge. A late afternoon game on Sunday against the upstart Colts and Andrew Luck  followed by a night game four days later against their AFC East rival that pushed them to OT in October.
Well, 108 points later, the Patriots went from 6-3 to 8-3 and in complete control of the AFC East, all but assuring their 10th division title in 12 seasons. In the afterglow of Thursday’s 49-19 feast on the Jets at MetLife Stadium, Belichick gave credit to his players for their work on a tight schedule.
“As we talked about [Thursday] night, I think after going through the film that it was really apparent that the preparation that our players put into this game certainly helped us with our overall execution,” Belichick said in a Friday afternoon conference call. ” I thought we had a real good three days, four days of preparation for the game ‘ a lot of concentration, focus, attentiveness, attention to detail and all those things came out in different aspects of the game. So, I’ll give credit to the players, the way they prepared and performed. I thought we had good energy last night.
“Obviously the big plays in the game really tilted the game strongly in our favor so that was important. We’ll try to take the next day or so to kind of get caught up and get re-organized. We never even had a chance to spend much time at all on the Indianapolis game so we’ll need to catch up a little bit on that and of course the Jet game from last night, as quickly as possible and put that behind us and turn the page onto Miami. It’s good to get a couple wins over the Jets and certainly it was good to get the bonus points from the turnovers on defense and the kicking game, not only turnovers but to end up with significant points on the board. Those plays are always especially good to see because it’s hard to count on them. When you get them, it really shifts the game quickly.”
Belichick’s sign of gratitude was to give the players three days off, in essence giving them a second bye weekend in four weeks. The players don’t have to report to Foxboro until midday Monday to get ready for the Dolphins in South Florida on Dec. 2.
“It was good to see us respond very positively to the challenge of going down and playing the Jets on Thanksgiving night. But there’s a new challenge every week,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to respond to future challenges in the same positive way, by using the same methods: working hard, being attentive, putting extra things into it; doing extra things at this time of year can really pay off and make a difference.
“I hope that we can all see the benefit of doing that, in terms of what the results were and hopefully going forward we can build on this and get that same type of preparation and attention to the little things that will make a difference for us. I hope this will be a good’¦we always talk about it, it isn’t like we don’t ever do it, I just thought this was doing everything [with] the timeframe and all that we were working with, that it was a very good effort by the players to respond. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it again.”
Here is the remainder of Belichick’s Q and A with reporters on Friday afternoon:
Q: You had another offensive linemen step up last night. Can you assess how Marcus Cannon [filling in for Sebastian Vollmer ] did [Thursday] night and how the entire offensive line played last night?
BB: Marcus did a real good job filling in there at right tackle. I thought he did a good job in the passing game. He also had some strong run blocks. We all know he’s a very athletic and powerful man. He played to that a number of times, which I thought he did for us in training camp and preseason, as well as he showed a very good presence on the field at that point. Fortunately for the team, Sebastian [Vollmer] has been able to hold that down but last night we had to call on Marcus, as we did the first couple games of the season. They were kind of alternating there; Sebastian was working his way back. Marcus did a pretty good job. As you said, that’s kind of the way it’s been on the line, other than left tackle and center. We’ve had multiple people play both guard positions and two guys playing right tackle. I think it’s a real credit to the way that group works together, the way they practice together and really the way Dante [Scarnecchia] has molded them as a group and as a very effective offensive line unit. I’d say even in practice, when we move those people in and out of the lineup and different guys play center, different guys play the guard positions, roll the tackles through and so forth, that even in practice you really don’t notice ‘ obviously if you’re looking at a particular position you notice ‘ but by the results of the play you don’t usually notice, at least whose in there because whoever it is gets it right, does the job and that isn’t a problem on the play for the most part. So, it’s a pretty comforting feeling that whichever guys have to go in there and play, they’ve played with each other, the communication is good and that they can physically and functionally do the job that they’re asked to do and do it a high competitive level. It’s been a strength for us through the years and I think it continues to be this year so far that whichever guys have had to play or in the cases that we’ve played six, seven players in one game, that they’ve stepped in there and done a good job.
Q: How much of a game changer can it be when your defense forces a turnover and the offense is able to turn it into points?
BB: I think last night is the ‘Exhibit A’ on how quickly the game can change. Turnovers are a huge part of the game and other than points, they’re probably statistically the highest correlation to winning. We had a lot of turnovers earlier in the year and we didn’t get enough point production out of those turnovers. A lot of times, we’d turn the ball over and end up leaving with not many points. So even though we had a turnover differential advantage, that didn’t really translate into a big point advantage with those turnovers. The past few weeks, that number has changed more in our favor where the turnovers have been converted into points and in a lot of cases, touchdowns. We all saw how quickly that a very competitive game last night, that was a scoreless tie, a battle back and forth, then all the sudden it’s 35 points up there. But that’s what happens. A big play, a turnover, score, another turnover, another big play and when you get all those yards in one play, whether it’s on a big play or a turnover, then that’s what defines explosive plays. It certainly changes the whole dynamic of the game even though a 14-play, 80-yard drive that takes seven and half minutes, you get the same amount of points and all that, but it takes longer and doesn’t change the game as quickly obviously. You have to take advantage of those opportunities, to turn them into points, whether it’s Julian’s [Edelman] return or Steve’s [Gregory] return or like we had in the Indianapolis game, the strip sack and then the pass to [Rob] Gronkowski  from the 20-yard line or whatever it was. When it happens that fast, it really can swing the momentum in a hurry.
Q: Can you feel things feeding off each other when that happens or are they isolated?
BB: I think those plays always energize you a little bit. But we really try to do that on every play, believe it or not. You go down there on the kickoff team, we’re always thinking about making a big play, tackling them inside the 20, knocking the ball loose. We go out there on the punt return or kickoff return team and we’re always thinking about taking it to the house; trying to execute the play properly, whether it’s blocking a punt or a returning a kick, whatever it happens to be, that that play is going to end up in the end zone for us. The same thing on a lot of plays offensively or defensively that we’re trying to get turnovers, we’re trying to make big plays, score on long runs or long passes. That doesn’t always mean throw the ball 90 yards down the field, it can also be catch and run plays or hit a seam in the running game and block a defensive back, break a tackle and go. We’re always thinking about those plays. Obviously you’re lucky if you get a couple of them a game, but I think the positive attitude and the understanding of the concept of everybody getting their man or everybody doing the right thing, to be able to kick the ball off the quarterback or disrupt the passing game so we can get our hands on the ball and intercept it or return a kick or a make a big play off it, those things are always in the back of your mind on every play.
Q: Have the turnovers been instinctive or have they been because of preparation, like Steve Gregory ‘s interception, for example?
BB: I think preparation is a big part of it, especially on a play like that. Steve is a very astute player, experienced and again, intelligent to pick up little things, little tips and keys. He does a good job of reading the quarterback and is able to use his experience on a play like that, to see the route develop, anticipate it and then most importantly pull the trigger and react to it quickly so that he could make the play. I think if he had hesitated a little bit or not gotten quite that good a jump on the ball, he would have gotten there just in time to break it up or make the tackle. It was that extra jump on it, that split second explosion and ability to attack the play that turned it into a turnover. Defensively plays like the [Mark] Sanchez  fumble, we didn’t really have a lot to do with that play, that was more a mistake on their part than it was a great defensive play but we were able to capitalize on it, take advantage of it. Of course, we’ve all seen those plays this year and in other years, whether it be our team or another team, where a guy drops an interception or a guy has a chance to recover a fumble and it somehow squirts out and the team that should get it doesn’t get it. Some of that is creating opportunities and some of that is capitalizing on opportunities when they’re there. Usually over the course of a game, you’re going to get a couple opportunities to take the ball away somewhere along the line, defensively or in the kicking game and you have to be alert enough to capitalize on having everyone hustle and being alert, reacting to them quickly, those are the ones you usually get. A lot of times you get those opportunities and you don’t capitalize on them because you’re just not alert enough, you’re just not reacting quickly enough, you just don’t have that same split second different in energy and anticipation and reaction that makes the difference. So, the more alert you are, the more effort you’re giving, the faster you are to the ball, the more of those good things usually happen.
Q: How do you think Aaron Hernandez  and Daniel Fells did last night?
BB: Daniel did a good job for us. I thought that he showed up on a number of plays in the running game and in the passing game. I thought he did a good job and Aaron did as well. He certainly had a nice play there early in the game to change the field position on a play action pass. I think it’s tough for a player who has been out for a few weeks to come right back in at the same level that he would be if he were playing all those consecutive weeks and practicing. But I think Aaron did some good things and we hope that in the next game that he plays, that he’ll be able to build on last night and take it to higher ground. He’ll work hard on the practice field and work hard on his preparation so that the little things, the things that make a difference between a good play and a great play, he’ll work hard to make those things happen. Hopefully he’ll improve every week. I think we saw a little bit of the same thing with Julian [Edelman ] when he came back after a couple, two, three weeks in there that his execution was just a little bit sharper. Sometimes that coincides with opportunities, sometimes it doesn’t but just the overall level of play should be higher with more repetitions and more practice otherwise there’s no point in us doing it.