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Bill Belichick walks a fine line: ‘We’re all going to make mistakes and nobody makes more of them than I do’

12.20.13 at 11:50 am ET

FOXBORO — On Friday, Bill Belichick revealed his more humble side to make a point about the fine line he walks between correcting mistakes and accepting them as part of the game and the other side where too many can just kill a team.

The obvious best example of this on the 2013 Patriots is Stevan Ridley, the most explosive running back the Patriots have. He was benched in the Houston game after losing fumbles in each of the previous three games.

He came back against Cleveland and Miami, carrying the ball just eight times in each of the two games. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season on 151 carries.

Belichick was asked Friday if there is a balance a coach has to go through between making it a teaching moment not only for him but also the other players on the roster and taking him out of the equation hurting the team. In other words, is there a balance to strike as a coach between making sure that they get the message that it’€™s not acceptable while not hurting the team?

“I’€™d say absolutely,” Belichick said. “I think that’€™s the perfect way to put it actually. That’€™s the balance they’€™re trying to strike. I think that’€™s true probably every day of the football season, let’€™s put it that way. Every day of the football season, including OTAs, including training camp. Everybody has to understand that there’€™s a below the line level. When it’€™s below the line, we can’€™t live with it. It hurts the team. Now, we’€™re all going to make mistakes and nobody makes more of them than I do. I understand that mistakes are part of the game. I’€™ve been in it long enough to know there’€™s no perfect player, no perfect game or practice. If you go out there and compete against high level competition, that they’€™re going to make some plays too.

“But there’€™s a below the line and we just can’€™t live with that and expect to win. That’€™s the bottom line. Things are going to happen that are below the line that we have to correct but we have to stay above the line. It’€™s as simple as that. That line is drawn at every position with various criteria that apply to those players at those positions. It’€™s not scientific, there’€™s no textbook on it, on how to handle each situation. Those are decisions you have to make on a daily basis and ultimately on a weekly basis and ultimately on your decisions to keep or not keep certain players. Things like that come into play. How each decision gets made, that’€™s a whole other discussion. That’€™s a critical part, I think, of coaching in any sport, particularly football but any sport.

Reminded that former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson once said, “If Troy Aikman walks into the meeting late, I’€™m not cutting him,” Belichick added some perspective.

“I think what Jimmy is referring to, and I certainly would agree with that, is that there are different levels and players earn different levels of status, if you will, on the team. I mean, everybody on the team has the same status to a certain degree but we all know it’€™s not quite the same for everybody. That being said, I think that there’€™s a certain way to deal with different players on the team. But as far as below the line, or above the line, I don’€™t think there’€™s really too much doubt about that. Whatever the position is, if you’€™re playing defensive back, you can’€™t have the ball thrown over your head for an 80-yard touchdown. It’€™s not acceptable.

“I don’€™t care if the guy is a Hall of Fame player or if he’€™s a rookie free agent in his first practice. We can’€™t play like that. We can’€™t throw a pass into a team meeting where there’€™s four defenders there and try to jam the ball in there and get it picked off when they have four guys standing there. It’€™s unacceptable. We can’€™t win doing that. I don’€™t care who the quarterback is. It doesn’€™t make any difference. We can’€™t jump offside and false start and be in first-and-15s and first-and-fives and let them convert third downs and third-and-fours because we jump offside. You can’€™t play like that. It doesn’€™t matter who the player is, it’€™s still below the line. We just can’€™t play like that and expect to win with those kind of mistakes.

“Now, is that going to happen? Yeah, it’€™s going to happen, sure. I understand that. But if it happens too often, we can’€™t play like that. And there’€™s going to be a new coach up here too if it happens too often. I know that too. The things that cause you to lose, you have to eliminate. Before you can win, you can’€™t lose. When you do things as a coach or as a player that cause you to lose, then you won’€™t be in this job long.

Asked about the “getting above the line,” Belichick – as he often does – brought in history with another player who had a fumbling problem, albeit a very short-lived problem.

“You go out there and perform. You don’€™t drop below the line,” Belichick said. “Take Ozzie Newsome. There’€™s a good example right there. When Ozzie was a rookie, he played 13 years, when he was rookie, he fumbled, lost the ball, team lost the game. Never fumbled again the rest of his career. Never fumbled again the rest of his career ‘€“ 600 and 700 [662 receptions] passes, however many passes it was, however many times he touched the ball the rest of his career, never fumbled again. Why is Ozzie Newsome in the Hall of Fame? That’€™s why. That kind of commitment, that kind of performance. It was important enough to him. Fumbled once, didn’€™t fumble again the rest of his entire career. Now think about that. Want to know how a guy gets in the Hall of Fame? That’€™s one reason.

Lawrence Taylor. How many sacks did he have? How many times was he offside? Go back and look how many times he was offside. It wasn’€™t very many. There’€™s a guy that hit the quarterback, made as many plays defensively as any player in football, certainly any player I’€™ve ever coached but any player in football ‘€“ I’€™d put him up against anybody in terms of big plays, hitting the quarterback, tackles beyond the line of scrimmage. I don’€™t care what the stats are, a lot of plays that he made, that somebody else made, but he was an impact, dynamic, as disruptive a player defensively as there’€™s probably ever been in the National Football League. How many times was he offside? Was he offside? Yeah, but he was a pretty disruptive player without doing that. I think those are examples of what I’€™m talking about ‘€“ for all of us. We all make mistakes, even the great ones, but they don’€™t repeat them, they don’€™t make very many of them, they correct it, it’€™s important enough to them to move on and get it right. That’€™s how you do it. You get it right.”

Read More: Baltiimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots



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