Patriots

Belichick appreciates fourth-quarter 'situational football' from Patriots in win

Belichick appreciates fourth-quarter 'situational football' from Patriots in win

FOXBORO -- There's very little that Bill Belichick appreciates more than late-game execution. "Situational football," as he calls it, is something that the Patriots practice on a regular basis because it's often the difference between winning and losing. 

That work during practices -- in training camp Belichick often calls out downs, distances and time on the clock as he watches his players react -- paid dividends on Sunday. 

"Obviously," he said, "a lot of situational football at the end that was critical to the outcome of the game for us . . . The whole game really came down to the last -- call it three, three-and-a-half minutes. Fortunately, we were able to make the plays we needed to make to win."

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Let's start there, then. 

With 3:23 remaining and the Texans ahead, 30-28, Texans running back Lamar Miller ran for seven yards, giving Houston a second-and-manageable. But, realizing that the Texans would want to keep the ball on the ground to drain the clock, the Patriots were ready for the run and stopped Miller for a gain of two.

That brought up a third-and-one situation on the Patriots 18-yard line. Belichick called timeout. Big-time "situational football" play was coming and he knew it. 

The Patriots brought their goal-line defense onto the field and smothered Miller for no gain. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy -- who played 46 and 52 snaps in the unseasonably warm weather, respectively -- were in on the stop. That forced a field goal and put the Texans up, 33-28. It also kept the Patriots a Tom Brady-led two-minute drive away from the win. 

Belichick brought up the play twice during his post-game press conference unprompted. 

"In the end it came down to a handful of plays and situational football at the end of the game," he said. "The third-down stop was our goal line defense against their three receiver set. We made the play there and then, again, we were able to overcome a couple of long-yardage situations on the last drive."

A couple of those long-yardage situations were of their own doing.

David Andrews was called for a hold with 2:20 remaining that gave the Patriots a second-and-20 at the Patriots 15-yard line. Brady picked up eight with a throw to Rob Gronkowski, and then came out of the two-minute warning to hit Gronkowski again for 15 and a first down. 

After Brandin Cooks hauled in an 18-yard toss, Brady was strip-sacked and Andrews recovered at the Patriots 48-yard line. An incomplete pass to Cooks, brought up a third-and-18. Not many plays in the playbook for that situation. 

Yet Amendola's leaping catch for 27 yards, against Houston's zone-turned-man defense, gave the Patriots their most crucial third-down conversion. That play was followed immediately by Cooks' game-winner. 

Situational football at its finest. 

"We were in a lot of situational football in that game on offense, defense and special teams," Belichick said. "Yeah, of course you’d like to play better so it doesn’t come down to the final play, but look, this is the National Football League and the Texans are an outstanding team and that’s what it’s going to take to beat them is to play 60 minutes and be able to make the plays that you’ve got to make at the end to win, whether you’re on offense, or defense, or the kicking game or whatever it is. That’s no surprise."

Maybe the way the Patriots finished the game shouldn't be surprising, either. Dramatic? Sure. But their quarterback's penchant for fourth-quarter execution is well-established, as is the coach's devotion to working on those situations in practice.

It's no wonder Belichick was as pleased as he was with the way things played out.

"The players went the whole 60 minutes, played hard, competed well and made enough plays at the end," he said. "Just barely, but made enough plays at the end to win. It was good. It was good."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

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25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.