Bill Belichick said he "had a good feeling" when he woke up on Monday morning as the AFC East Champions. But during his afternoon conference call, the Patriots coach also acknowledged that their 23-16 win over the Miami Dolphins "wasn't perfect."
That would explain why New England's 7:18 fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a field goal was so vitally important.
Stephen Gostkowski's 20-yarder gave the Patriots a 10-point lead with 1:10 left in the game. It capped a 16-play, 77-yard drive that depicted everything Belichick looks for in a win: big plays in crucial times of the game.
"Ultimately, at the end, it comes down to being able to make the plays that you need to make to win the game," said Belichick in Monday's conference call. "And I thought, offensively, that was really a big key for us in this game, was, when the game got to a certain point there in the fourth quarter, we played our best football. We controlled the ball, we drove the length of the field, we were able to go up by two scores. And that really changed the outcome of the game.
"We've been in those situations before where we've thrown up a lot of big numbers and scored some points or whatever, and then get to that point in the game and we go three-and-out. So, it's really about being able to do the things that you need to do to win the game, and I thought that's what we did offensively.
"And on that last drive, that was a great drive, at a critical point in the game," added Belichick. "It's what we needed to do, and we did it. That's what I like to see from my offense, defense, or any part of your team for that matter, is to make the critical plays that you need to make to win the game. That's really what it's all about. Not stats, that's not what winning is about. Winning is about making the plays that you need to make to win the game."
Stevan Ridley did most of the damage in that drive, rushing for 46 of those 77 yards. It's something that sticks out to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
"As far as what happened on that drive, not a whole lot in terms of schematics that we changed," he said in a conference call on Monday. "There were maybe a few things that we decided to do a little bit more of on that drive. But all in all, I think it was just execution up front, trying to give the back an opportunity to get started. I thought the backs made some really good runs on that last drive to keep us in positive down-and-distance situations and convert some first downs for us. And I thought that the line and the tight ends did a nice job of getting people covered up, to allow that to happen.
"You're sitting on the sidelines, you know it's a close game, you know it's a tight game. And really, what you're focused on is going out there and playing your best football when you need it the most, at the end. And I thought our guys really stepped up and handled that challenge at that time."