Players trust Belichick’s ability to make changes on the fly during games.
Bill Belichick had seen enough. The Eagles had just completed the longest drive of the year against his defense. It was the longest drive on his team in the past eight years.
It went 95 yards over the course of 16 plays and ate 9:33 off the clock. Even after a bye week to make corrections from the Baltimore game, where the Ravens had their way with the Patriots running the football, the defense still couldn’t get off the field.
The Eagles had taken a 10-0 lead with that near 10-minute drive, culminating with a Carson Wentz touchdown throw to tight end Dallas Goedert. So with the Patriots offense back on the field, Belichick huddled the defense on the bench.
The Patriots head coach was down on a knee, gesturing with his hands, passionately giving out instructions. The TV cameras caught him in full lecture mode.
“You see that. He’s already starting to change stuff right there,” CBS analyst Tony Romo told the viewing audience with regard to Belichick. “That’s his gift, his ability to adjust within a game, within a week.”
It’s a gift that keeps giving.
After the Hoodie’s little pow-wow on the sideline, the game changed. There were no more length of the field, clock-eating drives. The Eagles did not score from that point on. They barely had a sniff. Doug Pederson’s team possessed the ball 10 more times. Of those chances, the Eagles punted eight times, fumbled once for a turnover, then saw the clock run out on the final possession. They gained just 165 yards the rest of the way.
Talk about adjustments.
“When he’s on the sideline, I feel like that man’s a genius. If he sees something, he’s definitely going to relay it to us, and make sure we all get on the same page,” Patriots safety Terrence Brooks said of Belichick. “Communication has to be key. Anything we’re not doing to satisfy him, or execute the game plan, he’s going to let us know about it. And I feel like we do a great job responding to him and getting it done.”
Stephon Gilmore said sometimes teams do things that aren’t in the game plan, so adjustments have to be made. It happened in Baltimore, and it happened in Philadelphia. Teams with bye weeks have more time to prepare and plan, adding in new wrinkles. So the Patriots, in turn, have to adapt.
“Sometimes you don’t know what a team’s going to do coming in, then you get a grasp,” said Gilmore. “Then you can adjust, or tighten up what you ain’t doing right.”
The players trust Belichick. They trust his eyes. They know whatever he’s picked up from watching on the sideline is usually on the money. He has a good eye for detail and spotting issues.
“Whatever he says, most of the time is true,” said Gilmore. “You just try and listen and correct the things we didn’t do well, and go from there.”
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been with the Patriots for eight seasons. He’s been in more of these Belichick huddles than anyone on the defense save for Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. He knows what Belichick brings to that huddle is gold.
“I think the best thing about that, is that’s what makes coach, coach,” said Hightower. “That’s what makes him so good, those adjustments. That’s what makes him so good at being a coach, he pays attention to details.”
Hightower started to give examples of some of the details and tendencies Belichick notices about an opposing tackle for instance. But then the linebacker stopped himself. He didn’t want to give away too much of the Hoodie’s secrets.
“He’s just very detail-oriented,” said Hightower. “He knows the players, he knows what they’re like, he knows the reads, what they’re constantly throwing. So anytime coach comes to you, and tells you any kind of information, it’s valuable, it’s precious.”
Hightower said after surrendering that long drive to the Eagles, Belichick hit the trouble spot with his defense, told them what was needed to fix what was being exploited, and off they went.
“They were able to do certain things we didn’t want them to do. After that, we got a grasp (from Belichick) of what they wanted to do, and how they were doing it,” said Hightower. “We weren’t able to eliminate it, but we were able to slow it down and get to where we wanted to be.”
During one of his press sessions during the week, Belichick paraphrased a famous line from Dwight Eisenhower in describing what happens during games. You may draw up the plan and play all the schemes that were designed, but sometimes you have to divert based on what the opponent is doing.
“You prepare for what you prepare for and then what you get in the game, just like Eisenhower said, preparation is important for the war. Once a battle starts, you just throw it all out the window,” said Belichick. “You play a war, you fight the battle. That’s what we do. Once the game starts, we try to figure out how the game’s going, make adjustments, do the best we can at that point in time. Like all the rest of the preparation ... might be relevant, but it might not.”
The game within the game is about the adjustments. Patriots players know they’re lucky in that regard because they have the master when it comes to making adjustments.
“The man knows what he’s talking about, so everyone is going to key in what he’s saying,” said Brooks. “But he does a great job of getting us together, making sure we regroup, making sure we remember our keys, stuff to look for, and usually when we do that, we get things done.”
Favre on Brady
On his weekly SiriusXM NFL Radio show, Brett Favre and co-host Bruce Murray discussed Tom Brady’s slump and whether he was starting to finally hit the age wall. Murray asked Favre if he had noticed any of the signs of a quarterback changing how he plays because of his age. Favre said he didn’t believe that to be the case with Brady.
”I think as long as they protect him, there’s no reason why he can’t play as long as he wants. I don’t think that this has anything to do with age at all,” said Favre. “For whatever reason the Patriots, they’re not clicking on offense, and it’s not a result of Tom being in his 40s. It’s timing. Maybe the offensive line, they’ve had a few changes there, and he’s feeling a little bit of pressure from one side versus the other, and it’s just not right right now.
”But I think it is way too soon to write them off and I think it is absurd to mention age right now as a factor in why they’re struggling.”
Garoppolo moves on
No one in the 49ers camp seems to be very concerned about Jimmy Garoppolo’s eight interceptions in 10 games.
Jimmy G has taken the tack of moving on quickly from his mistakes.
”In football, bad things are going to happen at some point. It’s just how you react to those things,” he said via the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m a pretty even-keeled guy. Get the frustration out of the way and then just move on.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan will take that, because Garoppolo has shaken off the mistakes and pulled out a few games.
”What’s more frustrating to me is when a guy can’t make any plays, and a guy can’t throw it at all, and you sit and bang your head against the wall for 3 1/2 hours,” Shanahan said. “... I do like that Jimmy doesn’t seem to be affected by (interceptions), that he doesn’t go into a shell and still gives us a chance to win.”
Pass the baton
Gil Brandt, former Cowboys VP of player personnel and recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, noted on Twitter a Dallas record the Patriots are now approaching and likely to pass.
Wrote Brandt: “One of things I’m most proud of in my career is the NFL-record 20 consecutive winning seasons we had in Dallas. Patriots now at 19 straight. If I could choose one person to beat our mark, it would be Bill Belichick. Good company to have.”