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How Bill Belichick deals with officials in the playoffs: ‘There’s always a certain amount of gamesmanship’

01.08.14 at 12:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There isn’t a single aspect of an upcoming football game that Bill Belichick allows to get by him.

This includes the officiating crew assigned for a game. In the regular season, a team can prepare for the tendencies of a particular referee and officiating crew.

In the postseason, the NFL doesn’t assign the same game crews used for the regular season. Instead, they mix and match, ideally trying to reward those officials who have proven to be the most consistent and deserving of postseason work.

How does that change, if at all, Belichick’s process leading up to the game?

“I think there’€™s always a certain amount of gamesmanship, if you will, in that aspect of it. I certainly understand your comment about the tendencies of certain crews that they call a lot of this or they call a lot of that or whatever. On the other hand, from game to game, and we’€™ve certainly gone into games saying that, ‘€˜Well, this is a crew that throws a lot of flags’€™ and then they don’€™t throw any. Or, ‘€˜This is a crew that kind of lets the players play and doesn’€™t throw many flags,’€™ and then [you] get 10 penalties in the first half.

“Each game has its own dynamics and I think you have to, at some point in the game, as a team and individually, figure out what type of game this is and how much latitude there is in whatever aspect you’€™re playing, whatever position that you’€™re playing. You have to figure that out. I don’€™t think that’€™s any different in this game than any other game. It could be one of those games that’€™s tightly called and there’€™s 25 penalties in it. It could be one of those games where there are half a dozen penalties called. I don’€™t know. Look, the calls that they have to make ‘€“ false starts and too many men on the field and delay of game and all that ‘€“ anybody could make those calls. It’€™s not about [the] officiating crew calling penalties ‘€“ those are penalties that are obvious violations by the teams. Then there are judgment calls that fall into a different category. Those are the ones you have to figure out.”

Here is the rest of Belichick press conference from Wednesday:

BB: OK, well we’€™re all the way to Thursday here. As I said earlier in the week, obviously a real impressive ‘€“ Indianapolis is a real impressive football team; do a lot of things well, shown a lot of poise, a lot of toughness, a lot of resiliency. Explosive team in all three phases of the game; can really score from anywhere on the field on any play regardless of whether they have the ball or not. We’€™re going to have to do a good job for 60 minutes all the way across the board. It’€™s going to take everybody and everything we’€™ve got. That’€™s what we’€™re building for for Saturday night. We’€™ll just keep plugging away here.

Q: With the gravity of a one-game season, for guys who haven’€™t been to the playoffs do you have to make sure they stay even keel and play consistent football and don’€™t overthink it?

BB: Yeah, absolutely. Football is still football. The field markings haven’€™t changed and nothing has changed. It’€™s still football is football out there. We have to play the game the way that we’€™ve played it all year, tried to play it all year, the same fundamentals and basic concepts. But we all understand it’€™s a one-week season. We need everybody’€™s best this week. We’€™re playing against another great team. We’€™re going to get their best so it will be a highly competitive matchup. I don’€™t think we want to leave a stone unturned or anything less than 100 percent of our best out on the field Saturday night. That goes for all of us ‘€“ players, coaches, everybody who has some impact and participation in the game. This is the time to put your best ‘€“ your absolute best ‘€“ out there. That’€™s when it will be needed too because we’€™re playing a very good football team. That is what it is.

Q: Adam Vinatieri just turned 41. From your experience around kickers, what is your realistic thought in terms of how long someone like Adam might be able to keep going?

BB: I don’€™t know, he’€™s a special guy. I know he trains hard, as he did when he was here with all the other players, didn’€™t have any special routine like a specialist would have or anything like that. Mentally, he’€™s as tough as they come. He’€™s still banging them through; looks like he’€™s still good. So, I don’€™t know. I don’€™t know what the future is but just watching him now, he’€™s as good as he’€™s always been it seems like. He was here in ‘€™96, the year I came in, that was his rookie year, and was very consistent, dependable, tough-minded, good technique player. It doesn’€™t look like it’€™s changed.

Q: When you think of kickers, does anyone come to mind who was as productive late in their career as they were early on?

BB: There are a lot of guys that kicked well into their 30s and beyond that. You could go all the way to [George] Blanda, he kicked when he was [48], whatever it was. I don’€™t know, but he’€™s an effective player. I have a lot of respect for Adam.

Q: Have you seen them use their running backs differently?

BB: They all play. [Trent] Richardson has been a little bit more on third down but [Donald] Brown can play in those situations in there. They both do a good job. They have a good fullback; he’€™s a good blocker. They use him some in protection too. It doesn’€™t look like they have too much concern for who is in there. They do whatever the play calls for, whether it be pass protection or running the ball. It looks like they can all do it.

Q: You’€™ve had big comebacks and the Colts had one last weekend. Do you see any trend around the league, maybe related to rules, that’€™s making these big comebacks possible?

BB: It’€™s the way this league has been since I’€™ve been in it. Half the games are decided by a touchdown or less and a quarter of the games are decided by a field goal or less. In a lot of cases, the games are closer than that, even when the score is more than that but the games come down to the end of the fourth quarter. We’€™re ready to play that kind of game every week. I think we have to be. You see it throughout the league all the time; I don’€™t think it’€™s changed much.

Q: But the big spreads ‘€“ you came back from 24 and the Colts came back from 28 down. Is any lead safe these days?

BB: We saw Buffalo come back from a 35-point deficit against Houston in whatever year that was,’€™92, ‘€™93 [January 3, 1993].

Q: Devin McCourty changed to safety a while ago but how much has that helped the defense and what does that say about him that he was able to make that adjustment so well?

BB: I think Devin is one of our hardest working, best prepared players. He’€™s a very intelligent player that understands the total defensive scheme not just his position. Having played corner, he certainly understands the corner play and what needs to be done out there and how the safeties impact the corners’€™ responsibilities and communication and all those things. He’€™s done a good job. He’€™s made the move a couple times for us actually. But it certainly has helped our play in the deep part of the field over the course of the last year and a half with him back there. I think Steve [Gregory] has done a good job too and Duron [Harmon] when they’€™ve been in there. But Devin’€™s been really solid for us; good tackler, has a lot of range, he’€™s got a lot of experience. He’€™s a smart guy, communicates well with his teammates. He does a good job.

Q: A full season after his injury, how has Dane Fletcher looked to you this year?

BB: Good. Dane hasn’€™t missed anything all year from the first day of OTAs, training camp, all season. He’€™s been right there with doing what everybody else has done, I’€™ll put it that way. I don’€™t see any aftereffects from ‘€“ unfortunately he got hurt very early in the ‘€™12 season, it was the first preseason game. So, the surgery was early, the rehab was in time for him to be able to fully participate with the team through everything we’€™ve done this year. He hasn’€™t missed anything. He worked hard in the offseason and even in the season last year, because he was rehabbing in October, November, December, January as we were playing. He was in the weight room working hard getting back and he was ready to go. His physical readiness, his mental readiness for this season has been very good.

Q: What kind of leadership and versatility does he bring to the linebacking corps?

BB: I think he brings good leadership to the team, period. I think we saw, especially in the kicking game when Matt [Slater] was out for a few weeks there in that first third of the season, Dane was one of the many guys that stepped up with his experience and leadership in the kicking game. He’€™s given us that same level of play defensively whether it be in sub situations or regular situations. He’€™s a dependable guy that we all have a lot of confidence in.

Q: Devin McCourty said last week that he thinks Steve Gregory is the smartest guy in the secondary and Aqib Talib has said something similar. How much of that on-field intelligence has a played a role in Steve’€™s success?

BB: A lot. Steve is a very instinctive player, not only smart but he has good anticipation and awareness of what’€™s happening back there. I think that’€™s definitely one of his strengths. Steve has played very well for us close to the line of scrimmage as well. Not that he’€™s been there a lot, but he’€™s certainly had his share of plays in short-yardage, in running situations where he’€™s made plays down there around the line of scrimmage. He’€™s very instinctive in the running game and the passing game, formations, he’€™s, yeah, we’€™re really fortunate. Like I said, Duron [Harmon], for a young guy has picked that up as well. Steve and Devin have helped him but Duron has picked it up well. Whichever guys are in there, I don’€™t want to say you don’€™t notice it, but as a coach and you’€™re kind of watching everybody out there on the field, sometimes you notice when a certain player is in there because of maybe a drop-off in terms or not quite the same level of execution or communication. When those three guys are in there, you kind of really don’€™t, it’€™s sort of really seamless. They all communicate well; they all make good decisions, good calls. They’€™re in the right place, they disguise well. They’€™ve all done a good job.

Q: How remarkable is it that Steve Gregory has done well close to the line given his size?

BB: Well he’€™s a tough kid and he’€™s always been that size so it isn’€™t like he’€™s changed. That’€™s the way he’€™s played since he’€™s come into this league and the way it was in college he played some corner. He’€™s played different responsibilities in this league but he’€™s been a safety for the majority of it. That’€™s his playing style. He’€™s a tough kid, knows how to handle himself in there.

Q: In your experience, when you’€™ve signed a player that’€™s been with an opponent for an extended period of time or you’€™re facing an opponent who just signed a player who has been with you, like the Colts just did with Deion Branch, can the player provide any type of information that can help you if you have the player or hurt you if they’€™re with the opponent?

BB: I think that’€™s way overrated. A lot of times the information in those situation is sometimes misinformation because things could change from whenever that person was ‘€“ I’€™m not saying that in any particular circumstance, I’€™m just saying in general. A lot of times a player that’€™s been with another team, tells you something, ‘€˜This is what they do, this is their call, this is that,’€™ and then it turns out that’€™s not really what it is. Honestly, I think right now we have enough trouble doing all the things that we do and getting them right and getting everybody to do them well and I’€™m sure they have the same thing with the amount of volume that you have in your different systems and the amount of volume that you face on the other side of the ball to be able to not only know everything that you’€™re doing but also be able to figure out everything that they’€™re doing. It’€™s pretty overrated.

Q: Do you change anything this week because of that?

BB: We’€™ll do whatever we think is best.

Q: You’€™ve been to the playoffs almost every year in the past 10 years. Can you talk about your culture and philosophy?

BB: Well it’€™s really one week at a time and right now it’€™s just trying to get ready to beat Indianapolis. It’€™s not anything more than that. Last week it was about trying to beat Buffalo and the week before it was about trying to beat Baltimore and the week before that it was about trying to beat Miami. We’€™ll take it one game at a time, one week at a time and try to figure out the best thing we can for that week and that game. When it’€™s over, [we] close the book on it and move on to the next team.

Q: Is that your key to success?

BB: I don’€™t know about that. You asked me what we do. That’€™s what we do. I don’€™t know if it’€™s a key or not. That’€™s what we try to do.

Q: Is there any added challenge for a player like Reggie Dunn on the practice squad? What’€™s the biggest challenge for a player assimilating himself at this point in the season?

BB: It’€™s simply a case of trying to take a look at players that you have an interest, that you have an available spot for on the practice squad. We’€™ve done that all year. When there’€™s been a spot, we’€™ve brought guys in. some guys we’€™ve had a background with, some guys we haven’€™t. But based on what the needs are of the team, based on what the options are for practice squad for practice squad eligible players that are out there and based on what kind of future we think the player might have on the team, that’€™s what we do. Whether it was him or Taylor Reed or Greg Orton or whoever it is, those are guys that we haven’€™t had. There are other players that we’€™ve brought back here like [R.J.] Mattes who we have had. It’€™s no big secret formula or anything. It’€™s taking a look at your positions of need for practice, taking a look at the players that you feel like might have a future with your team, if not this year maybe next year, looking at your options, trying to decide what the best one is and making the decision on it.

Q: Does the dynamic of the playoffs affect it at all with preparation?

BB: Well maybe not in preparation but in need. Again, it’€™s no different than ‘€“ it’€™s different but it’€™s not different than Orton, Reed, Mattes, you can go on back through the rest of the year. Some guys we’€™ve had in here on the practice squad that are now on other teams’€™ practice squads or have been signed to reserve/future contracts with those teams who are no longer available. I’€™m not saying they would or wouldn’€™t be here but they’€™re not an option. Or the players that have been on our practice squad or off our practice squad that ended up on other teams’€™ 53-man roster. We have guys on our roster that have been on other teams’€™ practice squads and so forth. That’€™s just the NFL. You have a lot of guys and when you need somebody, I get together with Nick [Caserio] and Nick gets together with the pro personnel department and talk about what our options are. Sometimes it’€™s clear cut, sometimes there are two or three and pick the one you think is best. Maybe if you get another opportunity than you go to the next guy or if you have a guy in here that doesn’€™t work out, then somebody else. Like, [Sam] McGuffie ‘€“ we’€™ve had five or six of those moves in the last couple weeks. There’€™s no magic wand to it, just work through the process of looking at the personnel that’€™s available and trying to make the best choice ‘€“ long, short-term and maybe upside potential, some combination of those things.

Q: When one team seizes the momentum of a football game, how big of a challenge is it to get control of a game back on your side?

BB: It just depends on how good you are and how good they are. The only way to do it is to make a play. You have to make a play somewhere, whether it’€™s in the kicking game or on offense or on defense to try to swing things back in your favor. Whatever those opportunities are, hopefully you can, if that happens you can do it.

Q: When you’€™re watching film of T.Y. Hilton, what impresses you the most about him? What stands out the most?

BB: Obviously his production. He’€™s productive at all three levels of the defense. He’€™s a vertical receiver, he’€™s a good intermediate receiver and he’€™s a good catch-and-run short receiver that can turn short plays into big plays. He’€™s a dynamic player that can hurt you in a lot of different ways. He’€™s a good route runner, he’€™s fast, he can get down the field but he can take a short play and turn it into a long run. He doesn’€™t need a lot of space. He’€™s a good catcher; he really does everything pretty well.

Q: What is your impression of the other receivers?

BB: In the opportunities they’€™ve had, they’€™ve all stepped up. [Griff] Whalen and [Da'€™Rick] Rogers, obviously [Coby] Fleener, whether you want to call him a receiver or a tight end, whatever he is, [Darrius] Heyward-Bey, those guys have all made plays for them somewhere along the line in different ways. [Andrew] Luck has done a good job of using all his receivers, using his backs and obviously tight end in the passing game. He’€™s done a good job of going to where the open guy is. I’€™m sure if he had his druthers, he’€™s get it to [T.Y.] Hilton but it’€™s not always Hilton. Sometimes he’€™s covered or they use him to attract, draw coverage somewhere else and that opens up opportunities for other guys in the passing game and running game.

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