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Bill Belichick goes deep on special teams and explains why he hates the extra point 01.04.14 at 12:53 pm ET
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Troy Brown had the key punt return of the 2001 AFC championship win over the Steelers. (AP)

Troy Brown had the key punt return of the 2001 AFC championship win over the Steelers. (AP)

Bill Belichick is fond of reminding everyone who watches football that the outcome of many games is often determined by much more than the offense and defense.

In 1976, just two seasons into his NFL career, Belichick got one of his first big NFL assignments, serving as an assistant special teams coach for the Detroit Lions. He would serve the same role two seasons later for the Denver Broncos, in addition to becoming a defensive coaching assistant.

In 1979, Belichick began his 12-year stint with the New York Giants alongside head coach Ray Perkins as a defensive assistant and special teams coach.

So, whether it’€™s Jacoby Jones in the Super Bowl last year or the Troy Brown punt return for a touchdown in the 2001 AFC championship game, Belichick knows full well many postseason games between evenly matched teams come down to the kicking game. Does he anticipate seeing more of the same things over the next few weeks?

“Who knows what the difference in a game in a close game is going to be. But certainly the kicking game is always an important part of every game and any close game, especially when you have points involved, which we have with the field goals but potentially in a return game or blocked kick or that type of thing,” Belichick began. “Those are kind of bonus points. I don’€™t think you ever go into the game thinking, ‘€˜We’€™re going to get seven points from our punt return team or we’€™re going to get seven points from our kickoff coverage team to recover a fumble and run back for a touchdown.’€™

“Those are kind of bonus points you don’€™t really count on. You hope you get a couple of them over the course of the year but statistically that’€™s about what it’€™s going to be. So, a big play in that area is a huge play really because it’€™s like bonus points. I mean really I’€™ve always had a great appreciation for the kicking game. I think that I was fortunate when I grew up when Coach [Wayne] Hardin was the coach at Navy, he emphasized the kicking game a lot.

“Plays like the quick kick and some plays in the return game and so forth that kind of caught my eye as a kid and always sort of stayed interested in. I had an opportunity to coach it and I think it’€™s one of the great things about football is it brings that third element to the game besides offense and defense. It adds the kicking game, the specialists, all the different rules and strategical situations that can occur on kickoffs, punts and field goals and fakes and all those kind of things, field position plays. I think that’€™s an integral part of the game.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, detroit lions, Gino Cappelletti
Bill Belichick on fumbles: ‘We just can’t overcome those, not for very long’ 11.26.13 at 11:37 am ET
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Bill Belichick is looking for his team to take better care of the ball. (AP)

Bill Belichick is looking for his team to take better care of the ball. (AP)

Are the Patriots reaching a breaking point with Stevan Ridley and his fumbles?

Bill Belichick wouldn’t mention him by name but the coach continues to send a message with benchings against Carolina (18 snaps) and Denver (final 82 snaps of the game) that he can’t have what Ridley even conceded after Sunday’s game is a “sickening” trend with losing the football.

“Ball security is the paramount issue for your football team every week, our football team every week,” Belichick said.

Another reason Belichick didn’t want to mention Ridley by name was the fact that Ridley wasn’t alone. Yes, his fumble led to the 60-yard TD return by Von Miller. But Tom Brady put the ball on the ground twice and so did Julian Edelman (on one play). In all, the Patriots fumbled six times and were rescued somewhat by the fact Denver fumbled five times.

The Patriots were able to overcome it on Sunday night against a future hall of fame quarterback. But that will surely be the recipe for disaster going forward in the cold weather.

“We fumbled the ball, whatever it was, six times,” Belichick said. “We can’t go on like that. We just can’t. There were multiple situations and multiple things involved and it hurt us the week before in Carolina. We’re just not going to be able to overcome turning the ball over, however you turn it over. Whether it’s fumbles or interceptions or muffed punts or tipped interceptions, whatever it is, fumbled snaps – we just can’t overcome those, not for very long.

You might get it for awhile but in the end, it’s just too big an advantage go give to the other team. We have to take better care of the ball. Obviously they had a hard time taking care of it last night too. There were multiple turnovers throughout the game. Certainly the conditions were part of it but in general we have to do a better job of coaching and playing and securing the ball. That includes everybody, everybody who touches it. It’s not limited to one guy, it’s anybody who touches the ball. That’s the center, the quarterback, the running backs, the receivers, the returners, the holders, the kickers, the snappers – everybody. Everybody that touches the ball, we have to take better care of it.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, fumbles, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick recalls how Bill Parcells taught him how to manage the winds of change 10.28.13 at 12:11 pm ET
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Bill Parcells (left) and Bill Belichick have had a long and successful relationship in the NFL. (AP)

Bill Parcells (left) and Bill Belichick have had a long and successful relationship in the NFL. (AP)

FOXBORO — As the Patriots were facing a third-and-10 at Miami’s 30 yard line with 18 seconds left in the third quarter Sunday, Bill Belichick recalled the 1986 NFC championship game, and a valuable lesson he learned from Bill Parcells.

“I’d say one of the biggest decisions and most critical decisions that I’ve ever been a part of on that was in the 1986 NFC Championship Game against the Redskins,” Belichick recalled Monday in a conference call. “It was a windy day in Giants Stadium. We’ve had many of those and we won the toss and Coach [Bill] Parcells elected to take the wind which wasn’t very common. It wasn’t a very common decision because, let’s face it, you take it in the first quarter you’re not going to have it in the second quarter.

“That was what he decided to do and we were able to really take advantage of that situation against the Redskins. We got three stops and 17 points and we had a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter in part due to the wind, good defense and good offense helped of course. But the field position was huge and that ended up being the final score of the game. That decision, the initial points and the way that the game started really was a huge part of what was reflected in a huge degree to that decision that Bill made. That was a good lesson for me to learn in my career. It was a great decision by Coach Parcells.”

Sunday was another windy day for Belichick, this time with a 20 MPH breeze out of the north and behind the Patriots for 18 more seconds in a tie game. Belichick decided to call the first of his three second half timeouts after second down so he could be assured of holding the wind for the last two plays of the quarter and a potential go-ahead field goal.

Sure enough, third down was an incomplete pass and Stephen Gostkowski was brought on for the 48-yard field goal that would give the Patriots the lead for good. As it turned out, the incompletion probably saved Belichick another timeout. Gostkowski made it easily and Belichick talked about the decision to use the timeout in great detail Monday.

“We were at that point where we were in field goal range but it was a long field goal and it felt like if we changed ends of the field then that field goal range might not be there as evidenced by when we went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter going into the wind in a similar field position situation,” Belichick said. “When the clock was running there, we wanted to try to give ourselves a chance. Of course in a close game like that, the game was tied at the time, you hate to waste timeouts because they can be valuable at the end, as we’ve seen many times this year, but I felt like it was worth it to be able to have a better opportunity on the kick. Not saying that Steve couldn’t have made it going the other way, I just think it would have been a harder kick based on the conditions that were out there yesterday. Then we threw the incomplete pass and that might have helped us there, because had we completed the pass and not gotten the first down, then that would have been another situation and decision whether to use another timeout to preserve that but fortunately we didn’t have to do that.

“If we had converted, then obviously we would have then gone into the fourth quarter but it would have been closer to the goal line, at least at the start, if we had picked up the first down and then been able to, even if we got stopped, it would have been a kick that I would have felt better about going that direction. It wasn’t just the direction of the wind, there was also significant crosswind that all the specialists had to deal with. Yeah, of course, back to the first days I remember watching football, playing, watching, being a part of it, the wind conditions are always a factor in the kicking game first and then in the passing game.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Giants Stadium, Miami Dolphins
Quick hits: Mike Petraglia, Chris Price on what Patriots’ win in preseason finale means 08.30.13 at 12:32 am ET
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Read More: 2013 training camp, New England Patriots, New York Giants, nfl
Reports: Tom Brady likely to sit out against Giants 08.29.13 at 6:05 pm ET
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Tom Brady expected to sit out preseason finale Thursday against the Giants. (AP)

Tom Brady expected to sit out preseason finale Thursday against the Giants. (AP)

FOXBORO — It appears Tom Brady has played his last game of the preseason.

According to the Boston Herald and ESPNBoston.com, Brady will not play against the Giants in Thursday’s preseason finale. Brady would finish the preseason completing 34-of-44 passes for 357 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and a quarterback rating of 106.0 in three games. His next game would be the season opener on Sept. 8 in Buffalo.

An indication that this indeed would be the case was the unusual sight of Brady coming out for early stretch just under two hours before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Brady did come out and warm up in full uniform about an hour before the game and threw passes to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.

ESPNBoston.com, quoting a league source, reports that many regulars will also dress but not play.

This is hardly uncommon for Brady, who has played only four of 11 preseason finales since becoming the Patriots’ full-time starter in 2001.

With Brady likely out, the focus shifts to Ryan Mallett, expected to get the start. There could be even more spotlight on backup Tim Tebow. Tebow figures to be fighting for the last of 53 spots on the roster come Saturday night at the NFL cut deadline of 6 p.m. ET. Mallett has looked good for the most part in three preseason games, completing 32-of-60 passes for 330 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has an 80.6 QB rating. Tebow, on the other hand, has not. He is 5-for-19 for 54 yards, one interception and a 17.7 rating.

As for the Giants, head coach Tom Coughlin said earlier this week his starters will play just 12-15 snaps.

Read More: New England Patriots, New York Giants, nfl, Tom Brady
Setting the scene: Patriots conclude preseason against Giants at 5:02 pm ET
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Bill Belichick is the man with a plan for the preseason finale Thursday night. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick is the man with a plan for the preseason finale Thursday night. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — For the ninth straight year, the Patriots and Giants will conclude their respective preseason schedules against one another. This is the 23rd time the two teams are meeting in the preseason.

It will be a damp, cool and occasionally windy night, pleasant and comfortable night with a stiff breeze out of the north at about 10 MPH for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Temperatures are expected to hover around 60 degrees with a slight chance of rain early before giving way to mostly clear skies for most of the game.

Their are several areas for Patriots fans to keep a watch out for as Chris Price outlined. How much, if at all, will Tom Brady play? It’s likely that he starts the game if for no other reason than to build up his rhythm with Danny Amendola, who missed the game in Detroit with an unspecified injury.

While there has been much concern over the Patriots passing game coming into preseason, two of the main components have been among the NFL’s best this August.

Brady has a rating of 106.0 and has passed for 357 yards. He started the preseason by completing 18-of-20 passes over the first two games, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He and his numbers took a hit in Detroit as he was 16-of-24 with no touchdowns and an interception.

Standout rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has been clutch throughout the preseason. Last week, he was second among all NFL receivers in preseason receiving yards with 116 on eight catches. He has caught 13 passes for 142 yards in three preseason games, good for a 10.9 yards per catch average.

For the Giants, David Wilson was fourth among all rushers last week, going for 92 yards on five carries against the Jets in the “Snoopy Bowl” – including an 84-yard gallop to the house.

Read More: 2013 preseason, 2013 training camp, New England Patriots, New York Giants
Special circumstances of making Patriots roster 08.27.13 at 3:50 pm ET
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Matthew Slater. (AP)

Matthew Slater. (AP)

FOXBORO — It’s common practice among head coaches and general managers around the NFL to save the last spots on a 53-man roster for those who can do special things on special teams.

It’s here where a player can often make his mark and then move up the food chain of the roster to a positional grouping on offense or defense.

Special teams captain Matthew Slater is just one example. He was a receiver and special teams standout at UCLA with great speed. But what Bill Belichick saw in him was the intelligence as a gunner on special teams to be in the right place at the right time and make tackles. Over the years there have been many. Matt Chatham and Larry Izzo are just two linebackers that come to mind who earned their stripes on special teams. It’s not unusual to see Brandon Spikes or Dont’a Hightower on kick coverages.

With so many teams looking for every and any way to keep players this week, special teams is a landing place for many. Perhaps Leon Washington stays on the team because he is a sure-handed veteran returner and a fifth running back. Maybe linebacker Mike Rivera sticks because he’s a linebacker who can play on special teams. The same could be said of Dane Fletcher and Jeff Tarpinian. And then, of course, there’s Tim Tebow.

If you want to focus on one area Thursday night, try watching special teams very closely. Players who make big plays in coverage carry a lot of weight to Belichick. He explained as much Tuesday.

“It’s different. You just can’t practice special teams at the same speed that it happens in the game,” he said. “No matter how hard you try to practice it that way, it’s just not the same: the live tackling, the whole space situation that’s created in the kicking game. You practice it, you certainly evaluate it in practice but it doesn’t always quite show up that way in the game due to game speed and the athleticism that’s required of the players in space to block, tackle, avoid getting in the lanes, make those judgments, all those kinds of things in the coverage and the return game.

“Preseason production in the kicking game is certainly a factor. Practice is a factor but assuming that guys have their assignments right, then it comes down to performance and production and that’s not easy to gauge in practice. You can attempt to do it based on what you see but it’s not the same as what you see in a game.”

Is it safe to say that individual performance in special teams carries a bit more than offense or defense?

“Possibly, I think so,” Belichick said. “Again, I think you have to evaluate the plays and specifically what happened. But still, yeah, it’s hard to see it in practice. There were some good examples in the Philadelphia and Tampa practices where it was good, competitive situations of punt and punt return, guys trying to get off the line, guys trying to hold them up, that type of thing; the gunners against the vices outside. But it’s still not totally game conditions whereas things like a defensive back covering a receiver can be pretty close to a game situation. Maybe not the tackling or the actual finish part of it, but the actual coverage. You can do one-on-one pass rush, one-on-one pass protection pretty close to what it is in a game.

“It’s a lot harder to get that same situation in the kicking game where you run 40 yards, avoid a guy, tackle him, block him, with a returner involved, with the amount of space that’s involved. It’s just hard to create that. The contact and all that is much more in the games than it is in practice.”

Read More: 2013 training camp, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots, New York Giants
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