FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick was just waiting for someone -- anyone -- to give him an opening. Just give him a chance to funnel the conversation in the direction he wanted.
And then he’d take the point he wanted to make -- that nothing in the world matters as much as next Saturday night’s AFC divisional playoff game -- and burrow it into his team’s collective skin like a tick.
So the benign question posed about communication at the linebacker level improving this year was treated like heresy.
“It doesn’t really matter where anything was,” said Belichick. “It’s where it’ll be next Saturday night. That’ll be the challenge, to have everything the best that it can be next Saturday night.
“Honestly, I don’t really care where anything was during the regular season. It doesn’t matter how good it was or it wasn’t. It doesn’t matter,” he added. “The only thing that matters is where it is next Saturday night. That’s what we have to work toward, making each one of us, every player, every coach be able to give our absolute best performance next Saturday night. That’s all we care about. So we can keep working on everything, we need work on everything, but we’ve got to do a good job next Saturday night.
With the Patriots off Friday through Sunday, the potential is always there for some of the 60 players on the roster or practice squad to just ride the wind for a couple of days, enjoy their time off.
That isn’t, however, what the bye week is meant to be about in New England.
“The first bye week (back in October), we were having a bye week to rest up for whatever’s left for the season,” said Devin McCourty. “The reality of this bye week is we could be rested up and putting in work to play one game. I think once you’ve been here for a while you realize that you’re putting in the work for a couple of games left and then that’s it; the season is over. I think that’s the message you want everyone to know: ‘Whatever you think you want to do right now you can hold off, because the reality is if you don’t put everything in then you’ll be doing that in two weeks anyways.’ ”
This is about building to a fever pitch of preparation, not getting the oil changed and your dog to the groomer.
This is Belichick’s life’s work. His religion. It’s the family business passed down to him by his father, a business his father practiced side-by-side with the legendary Paul Brown. To treat this bye week as anything other than a period of solemnity and reflection, you must be out your mind?
Asked if he’d take a moment to relax this weekend, Belichick resisted doing a spit take and replied, “I mean we’re in the home stretch right here. I don’t think this is the time for the coaches to back off, or anybody for that matter. This is what it’s all about. This is the highest level of competition that you can have. It’s the best teams. We’re going to have to play and coach our best, and we don’t know who it is so there are right now three teams that we could potentially play that we have to be ready for. Regardless of who we play, there are things that we need to do but then we also need to know as much as we can and be prepared for the players when they come back in to give them the best information and the best scouting report and the best game plan we can to give them the best chance to win. That job isn’t done yet. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
So it went for most of a 15-minute press conference. It wasn’t a relaxed, end-of-the-week Belichick but it wasn’t a prickly one either. Hence, we kept getting signals crossed and offering those reflective-type questions that he kept sending back in our face like an in-his-prime Karch Kiraly.
Last year’s health relative to this year’s. That was the last one put on the tee for him.
“I don’t really care about last year,” he said. "I don’t really care about the year before that. I don’t really care about the decade before that. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. So where are we now? What’s the best thing we can do to help our team? How can we get better yesterday, today, to play our best football a week from Saturday night? That’s really what it’s all about, so where we were or weren’t some other year, I mean who cares? It’s where we are now and what’s the best thing we can do. Whatever that is, then that’s what we’re going to try and do.
“We’re going to try, yesterday and today and Friday, we’re going to make these days as productive as we can or try to get as much out of them as we can,” he said. "There are a lot of things we’re trying to balance between preparation, corrections, new things, rest. I mean it’s a long list. In the end we’ll try to get the most out of them that we can. That’s what our job is. Whatever happens some other year, it doesn’t really matter.”