Patriots

For Belichick, speaking to Navy football team 'an honor'

For Belichick, speaking to Navy football team 'an honor'

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.  -- Bill Belichick’s respect for our armed forces has been well-documented over the years. The son of a Navy coach and scout, Belichick grew up around those Midshipmen teams during the 1960s. He’s carried the lessons learned from that time with him some 50 years later.

So when given the opportunity to speak to this year’s Navy football team prior to its game this past weekend against SMU, the Patriots head coach jumped at the chance.

“It’s really an honor,” said Belichick. “[Navy coach] Ken [Niumatalo] has asked me to do a couple of times in different situations, but to speak to the actual team and not recruits is really an honor. For Ken and the Navy team and the Navy program and the Instituton -- to be able to stand in front of that group -- is a special feeling. 

So special, in fact, that Belichick relayed it wasn’t the easiest this speech he’s ever given. Quite the opposite, actually. 

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“That’s probably as nervous as i’ve been talking to a group in quite a while,” he said. “It was definitely special and there’s just something about looking at that group of kids that a little bit different than looking at another team -- not to take anything away from another team -- but that’s just a little bit different. It’s special. I really appreciate Ken giving me that opportunity and I’m glad they won last week, not that I had anything to do with it. I’m just glad it worked out for them too.”

Belichick told the assembled media this from the end zone at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. The Patriots made the short trip to Colorado Springs after their win over the Broncos Sunday night and have set up operations at the Academy for the week leading up to this weekend’s game in Mexico City versus the Raiders.

This isn’t the first time Belichick has been in this stadium, though his last trip was a long time ago: 1978, as an assistant with the Broncos.

“I sat in this stadium a couple times over here on the visitor’s side,” he said, gesturing to that sideline. “This is a great, great institution. The discipline, the leadership they have here . . . hope some of it rubs off on me this week. That’d be a plus.”

Belichick had the current coach of Air Force’s football team, Troy Calhoun, speak to his squad earlier in the week. 

“It’s kind of good to have an understanding of where you are and what happens at an institution like the Air Force Academy. We only have one guy that can relate to that, but other than [Joe] Cardona (who graduated from the Naval Academy), going to a civilian school is a lot different than what goes on here. Not bad, just different.”

That difference is stark. The amount of responsibility put on the students at the Academy here at Air Force, or the Naval Academy, or at Army is unlike anything that goes on at Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan or certainly a school like West Alabama, which produced Malcolm Butler.

How different? Belichick explains it well.

“Tremendous respect for them, what they do and how hard it is, number 1 to get into a service academy and number 2 meet the demands that the service academy puts on you physically, mentally, learning. I mean look, the kids that come out of here operate the highest technological and most sophisticated equipment in the world at a high level and a high price, too. There’s a lot at stake, too. What they do and how they do it and how they’re trained to do it is . . . very proud to be here and very proud of what they do.”

Belichick also expounded on the bond the academies have for each other. Even after battling one another in sport, “You go out and compete on the field then when it’s over, you’re fighting with each other not against each other but in the real fight -- the military fight.”

Belichick won’t ever lose sight on that, and part of his goal this week is to make sure his players understand that as well. This is a game. It’s important. But there are bigger things than football, and if he can translate even a little bit of that feeling to his team, than Belichick no doubt feels like he’s done that part of the job and done it well.

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Despite 'a lot of urgency,' Patriots don't panic before game-winning pick

Despite 'a lot of urgency,' Patriots don't panic before game-winning pick

Who saw that ending coming? Anyone? Well, if the Patriots are to be believed, they had a pretty good idea that the Steelers were a threat to have something up their sleeve as time wound down on what turned out to be a thrilling 27-24 victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

The ill-advised ‘fake spike throw a freakin’ slant to a well-covered Eli Rogers’ wasn’t the smartest play ever cooked up in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s apparently very smokey lab. But that’s what Pittsburgh decided the situation called for, down 3 with 9 ticks left on the clock. They were hell-bent on walking away a winner and instead departed the field slack-jawed and silent, likely having cost themselves a chance at home field throughout the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the Super Bowl.

“I think just practice execution turns into game reality,” said an elated Duron Harmon, who intercepted that final throw. “ We’ve seen it before. Everybody didn’t panic. Nobody was out there thinking they didn’t know what to do. We just played our rules, played good football and it turned into a good play for us.”

“The fake spike is something we see all the time,” said Devin McCourty. “I think all great quarterbacks do that. If they catch you sleeping and get an easy play, they’re going to try to do it. You could see us yelling and screaming the coverage, trying to get the guys up and get set because we knew there was a chance. If they spike it, they spike it.”

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The tape told a little something different. Only Trey Flowers actually attempts to play the play up front, eventually jumping in the air to dissuade Ben Roethlisberger from throwing the pass. On the back side of the play, Stephon Gilmore barely moves while Pat Chung appears lost and then lets up. Even Duron Harmon, who ended up with the ball falling into his lap for the game-preserving interception, didn’t react at the snap of the ball. But cornerback Eric Rowe did. The Pats should thank goodness for that. He deflected the ball that ended up in Harmon’s hands.

“A lot of urgency on that last play,” he said, describing the play in detail. “I see ‘em rushing to the ball. I see Matty P (Patricia) giving the call. I’m the star (the nickel cornerback). No one is on the outside. I’m like, forget it, I need to go outside and cover ‘em up. Everybody was in panic mode trying to get lined up and I see Big Ben fake it and I’m like ‘oh they’re running a play.’ I get my eyes back on the receiver and see him doing like a slant or a pop pass. I didn’t really think he was going to throw it because I was on his hip. He threw and I said ‘I just need to break this up’ and then boom, and I honestly like - it tipped off and if they caught ‘oh my god,’ but we came down with it. I was ecstatic.”

Coming down with it was Harmon. One of his nicknames is “The Closer” for good reason. He’s had a knack for sealing games with an interception but this one may have been the biggest of his career.

“Just prepared, man. Like everyone on our team. I just prepare. Credit to the entire defense for playing until the end. To all the guys,” said Harmon.

“It’s not by accident,” said Matthew Slater, who’s seen his share of big plays. “The guy prepares himself in that way. He respects the game of football, gives it everything he has every day and comes in here and he works hard to be in position. When guys are always around the ball, it’s not by accident.”

No, it is not. Never seems to be with this team, who once again have put themselves in position to do special things come January and - they hope - February in Minnesota.

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