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Bill Belichick: Executing in key situations is ‘absolutely the difference’ in finding success

12.17.13 at 2:45 pm ET

When the Patriots and Ravens meet Sunday, chances are good that it’ll be a close game.

Eleven of the 14 games New England has played this year have been decided by seven points or less, while Baltimore has played in 10 games decided by seven points or less. On Tuesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the traits needed to succeed in close games.

“Make the plays in the critical situations at the end of the game they need to make to win. That’€™s what it comes down to. That’€™s what this league is,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “You play for 57, 58, 59 minutes, and the game’€™s still not decided, and it hinges on the plays from there on out. It could be one play, it could be a series. It could be a kick or a return, fumbled punt, a pass, an interception, a sack, a short-yardage or goal line play, a stop ‘€“ it could be any one of a million situations.

“Being able to execute those plays in those critical situations is going to determine the result of the game. Being able to do those things as a team, along with some other things ‘€“ substitution, clock management, and all those other things as well, getting out of bounds, staying in bounds and making good decisions ‘€“ in the end, it comes down to execution in those critical situations [which] is absolutely the difference. That’€™s the NFL.”

The Ravens have gone 5-5 in their games decided by a touchdown or less, while the Patriots are 7-4. However, Baltimore has won their last three games by a total of seven points, which includes Monday’s win over the Lions, a contest that wasn’t decided until Justin Tucker connected on his sixth field goal of the night, a 61-yarder than lifted the Ravens to an 18-16 win.

Belichick is impressed with Tucker, who has an ability to extend the range for the Ravens on a regular basis.

“I think they’€™ve always been a team that wants the points and has a lot of confidence in their defense [that] they’€™re not going to give up many,” Belichick said. “The running the ball there at the end of the game to protect the field goal was something that they’€™ve done in the past. They did that against us in the AFC Championship Game a couple years ago, when they tried to run a trap up the middle, I think Vince [Wilfork] tackled him for a loss, knocked them out of field goal range and then they went for it on fourth down. I think that’€™s a style of play that they have and a strategy they’€™ve used in the past quite a bit, if that’€™s kind of what you’€™re referring to there.”

Here are some more highlights of his Q&A with the media Tuesday afternoon:

I know you focus on situations, what are your thoughts on the situation in the final minute last night when it looked like maybe they were going for it or maybe they’€™re weren’€™t all along and then calling on the kicker. How do you view that situation?

“I saw Coach [John] Harbaugh‘€™s comments after the game and he said that when they got to the whatever it was, 45-yard line, that he talked to [Justin] Tucker and Tucker told him, ‘€˜I can make this from here,’€™ or something like that. On third down, they got a couple more yards so it was 61 instead of 63, which I don’€™t know if that kick was good by two yards but I’€™d say that was about it, it was right around that range. It was probably a big two yards that they gained.”

When you go up against a really good kicker, is there anything you can do to minimize that player’€™s impact or are you at the mercy of distance and they’€™re going to trot him out and if he makes it, he makes it?

“Yeah, once they get into range I don’€™t know if there’€™s too much you can do. Unless they put a ball in there that doesn’€™t have any air in it or something, the guy can kick it from midfield. Yeah, obviously you just have to be aware, and we are every week. We always talk about field goal range for the kickers and how that varies from player to player and then the conditions in the game also naturally affect that. But I think that’€™s just something that you generally have to be aware of: what’€™s your field goal range, what’€™s their field goal range so where’€™s potential four-down territory and so forth? I would say it’€™s obviously a little bit extended this week with their kicker but it’€™s the same discussion every week. It’€™s just identifying what the range is.”

What’€™s different about the Ravens without some of their core guys there from the past few years?

“They have quite a few new players on their team and I’€™d say, in the starting lineup. Some young players, some guys that they’€™ve ‘€“ guys like [James] Ihedigbo, who stepped in for [Bernard] Pollard, which he did some of that last year; obviously some new players on the offensive line. I think over the course of the season that you can definitely see the improvement and the growth of their team, both individually with some of their younger players and collectively with the way the units operate, the communication, the coordination, things like that, the overall execution from the team standpoint. I’€™d say that’€™s what I’€™ve noticed about the team, how they’€™ve continued to get better and they’€™ve worked new people in there and then those people are now working together functioning very well as a unit, whether it be offense, defense or special teams. They’€™re playing good football.”

Daryl Smith was on one team his whole career and then moved to the Ravens and a new scheme. What have you noticed from him and his transition to a new team and new scheme?

I think he’€™s done a real good job. I think Daryl, you can see on film, he definitely is the communicator on defense, like [Ray] Lewis was but you can see him making adjustments and checks and controlling the front, moving the front over and getting them lined up and those kind of things. It looks like he’€™s got good command of what they’€™re doing. He’€™s been productive in the passing game. He’€™s gotten his hands on several balls, he’€™s got three interceptions. He’€™s around the ball in the passing game. He’€™s an active guy that reads plays well, he’€™s instinctive. He’€™s had a real productive season. He’€™s adapted, obviously, well and gives that team, from that position ‘€“ the middle linebacker has to do that, I’€™d say, in almost every defense ‘€“ but it looks like he gives them a good level of cohesiveness and communication working with Ihedigbo and [Matt] Elam, the two safeties and what their adjustments are, adjustments they have to make on different formations and situations in the game and all that. It looks like he does a real good job out there [being] on top of it.”

How would you describe the team’€™s identity now without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?

“I think they’€™re a good football team all the way around. You know, those guys were really good players and a few years ago, I would say more recently and I would say last year, they both missed time, I don’€™t think they were the best players on that team. I think they were obviously good players, they had great leadership and certainly [their] personalities had a big impact on the team and so forth. But I wouldn’€™t say they were their best players. I think a lot of their best players are still their best players. Guys like [Haloti] Ngata and [Terrell] Suggs and [Lardarius] Webb, I’€™m talking about defensively, those guys have been pretty good and they still are pretty good. They’€™re pretty much there every week. They’€™re not on the injury list much. I know Webb had the ACL last year, but I’€™m saying that guy’€™s pretty much started and played in, other than those games, every game and has been an excellent player for them there in the secondary. The same thing for Ngata and Suggs up front ‘€“ those guys have been a major force and they still are. They have a lot of other people around them, a lot of other good players. I’€™d say those guys have been and still are making a lot of plays for them. But definitely the addition of a guy like [Elvis] Dumervil who has replaced the edge rushers that they’€™ve had there, whether it be [Paul] Kruger or Jarret Johnson from years past, he’€™s certainly given them another good player to play opposite of Suggs. [Courtney] Upshaw and [Pernell] McPhee have done a good job for them in there too. But I’€™d say that adding Dumervil to that group that they had, that’€™s been a big addition for them too.”

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