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Bill Belichick: Sunday success in red zone came down to ‘better execution’

12.23.13 at 2:45 pm ET
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One of the keys to the Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Ravens on Sunday was an ability to convert in the red zone. New England — which has seen some of its red-zone numbers slip in recent weeks, including a 1-for-4 performance the week before against the Dolphins — was 3-for-3 on red zone touchdown chances. Running back LeGarrette Blount had two rushing touchdowns from inside the 20, while fellow running back Shane Vereen caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady to help lead the way in the blowout.

Asked about what happened against the Ravens in the red zone on Sunday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said it was simple.

“Better execution. It wasn’€™t a big new game plan or anything, like we put in a new offense down there. We just did things better,” Belichick said on a conference call with the media. “I think the way that [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and the offensive coaches set some of the plays up to match up against the Ravens looks probably might have helped us a little bit too but we had some good blocking, good execution in the passing game, some very good running. Not anything revolutionary –€“ just good football from really all 11 guys that were out there on the field.

“That’€™s what it usually is when things go well, in any situation, whether it’€™s red area, third down, running game, passing game. If everybody is doing a good job, you’€™re going to have good results. If they’€™re not, it’€™s not going to look the way you want it to.”

Belichick also discussed the ability of rookie offensive lineman Josh Kline to step in as needed at the left guard spot — he took over late last week when Nate Solder went down at veteran Logan Mankins kicked out to the left tackle spot. He went wire-to-wire against the Ravens in his first start as a professional.

On Monday, Belichick gave credit to offensive assistant coach Brian Daboll for coming across Kline when Kline was a collegian.

“Josh was a good player in college,” Belichick said. “Brian Daboll worked him out in the spring, and I think that was part of the impetus of our interest in him. He wasn’€™t drafted, we were able to recruit him and sign him as a college free agent. He’€™s played guard in college but we also worked him some at center. He played both center and guard in the preseason. Versatile guy, he’€™s got good intelligence.

“He was kind of on and off the roster a little bit early in the year. He’€™s worked hard and steadily improved through the course of the season in every area: his versatility, run blocking, pass blocking, work in the weight room. He’€™s given us confidence in the way that he’€™s practiced. We just felt yesterday that was the best way to go with the lineup. Of course Logan is one of our most dependable players and he certainly came through big yesterday playing left tackle against some pretty good players over there and definitely holding his own, doing a good job.”

Following are more highlights from Beichick’s Q&A.

Logan Ryan has five interceptions and several pass breakups. Were his ball skills an area something you were high on among other traits in the pre-draft process?

“Sure. I think that was a big strong point of Logan’€™s. He was a very productive player in college. I think that a lot of the league-wide, a lot of the interest and the grades on him were high relative to his production. I think probably what hurt him a little bit was his 40 time at the combine, just in terms of where he was drafted. But as we’ve seen this year throughout the year, it’€™s not only ball skills but I’€™d say an awareness or an instinctiveness, if you will, in terms of when to look for the ball, having an awareness of the ball being thrown and near his location and anticipating routes and being able to react to those routes sometimes a little bit before the ball is thrown and in some cases, maybe if he’€™s reading the quarterback a little bit before the receiver can get into his breaks. He’€™s had a number of plays like that, both in games and throughout the year in practices where you see his awareness and his instinctiveness, his understanding of the passing game and kind of getting that little one half step, split-second jump on the play. That’€™s shown up. He’€™s got good ball skills and good hands. I don’€™t think that’€™s ever been a question. But I think it’€™s that awareness and instinctiveness that’€™s obviously so hard to teach but it’€™s something that he just naturally does. I’€™m sure he was trained well at Rutgers, as was Duron [Harmon], as was Devin [McCourty], but he has that instinctiveness and awareness.”

When you made the moves you did at the slot receiver position this summer, a lot of the focus was on Danny Amendola. But on your mind, how much was Julian Edelman part of that thinking too? What have you seen out of him the last few weeks and his play overall?

“Obviously, he’€™s had a tremendous year for us. I don’€™t really think we’€™ve seen a whole lot from Julian that we haven’€™t seen before. There are a lot of things to like about Julian: his toughness, his speed, his quickness, his ability to run with the ball after he catches it and break tackles and be elusive and have good run skills in the secondary. He’€™s a tough kid who can come in and block. He’€™s smart, he’€™s got versatility. I think the big thing with Julian was just his ability to stay on the field and this year he’€™s been out there on a consistent basis. That not only has obviously helped his production but it’€™s led to more consistency with his timing and execution because you’€™re able to build on it week after week or day after day for that matter instead of kind of the way some of his career has been where it goes along and it’€™s good and then he misses some time and then there’€™s natural kind of backslide and rebuilding to where it was. A lot of times you’€™re just kind of playing catchup there whereas this year I think he’€™s really been able to continue to build on all those practices and games and it’€™s gotten ahead and gone to much higher ground. Fundamentally, I think he’€™s still the same player. But the consistency and the ability to build on where he’€™s been has really been impressive this year. Obviously he’€™s had an outstanding year.”

Have you and the coaching staff taken a moment to reflect on what an impressive job it’€™s been by the players and coaches just to get to 11-4 with everything that’€™s happened this year?

“I don’€™t really think that’€™s what it’€™s about. We’€™re in a week-to-week business. We all see in the NFL every week that games that you think are going to go one way go another way. This game, this league is so even. All the teams are so evenly matched. Every team has good players, good coaches, good schemes, they work hard, they have experienced guys, they have guys that are explosive and playmakers. Every week we line up across from those challenges. If you don’€™t move ahead and meet the next one, if you sit back there and spend too much time feeling good about what you did in the past then you’€™re going to come up short the next turn at bat. I think it’€™s very important for us to do that this week, just like it is every week. As disappointing as things were in Miami, I think you have to give the team a lot of credit for how quickly they put the disappointment of that game behind them, turned the focus on the Ravens, had a good week of preparation and then went down there and executed for 60 minutes in all three phases of the game at a very good level. I don’€™t think it’€™s really about looking at the past, whether it was good or bad, and we’ve had both. It’€™s putting that behind us, learning from some of the things that happened yesterday, both good and bad, reinforcing some positives, correcting some negatives and then moving on and turning our attention to Buffalo.”

Reading what some of the guys said yesterday after the game, it didn’€™t seem like those guys were surprised they were able to put together that kind of effort. I know you weren’€™t expecting a 41-7 game in Baltimore, but did you see that kind of effort coming from the guys?

“I felt like based on the week of practice and our preparation for the game and our attitude going into the game, that I thought we would go out there and play hard, that we would lay it all on the line and leave it on the field. I think that’€™s what they did. Some things went our way in the game. Obviously these two teams are a lot closer than the final score would indicate. If you look at most of our games this year and most of the Ravens games this year, they’€™ve all come down to pretty much the last possession one way or the other, with both teams. That was our expectation for this game, that it would be a game that it would be a few critical situations at the end of the game. I think as it turned out, some of those critical situations came up a little bit earlier in the game which then made the final score what it was. Things like the fourth-and-1 and as we mentioned, our ability to get the ball in in the red area for touchdowns and not field goals, which expanded the score a little bit. Obviously a missed field goal, Baltimore hasn’t seen that since three months ago. There were some plays that I think changed a little bit of the final score of the game. I don’€™t think it took away from the competitiveness of it. I never felt like we were just dominating the game. At the same, I never felt like they were really that far away until right there at the end where we just scored and we scored three times in the last two minutes or whatever it was. The game was a lot more competitive than that. I saw the effort coming. I think I saw the way that we played, the results obviously were great but I know that there was a lot of determination from our players to go down there and play our best football game of the year. We knew that’€™s what we needed to do and I think we got it.”

Was that as good a showing of mental toughness as you’€™ve had all year?

“I think mentally, from a mental toughness standpoint, it’€™s being able to perform well when everything’€™s not right for you, whatever those circumstances are. There have been a lot of situations this year where things aren’€™t the way we would hope they would be, but you have to go out and play through them. This was some elements of that. It wasn’t an easy game. The Carolina game where we lost on Monday night and it was a controversial-type situation at the end of the game and then came back on a short week against Denver and go out there and the conditions of that game ‘€“ getting behind 24-0. So, don’€™t know. I’€™m not ranking them all but every team has challenges along the way and you just have to meet the ones that you’€™re faced with. You can’€™t sit there and evaluate them: how bad is it or is this worse than that one or is this better than some other ones? You just take the cards you’€™re dealt and play the hand. That’€™s what you have to do ‘€“ make the best of it.”

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