Patriots coach Bill Belichick made a comment during his postgame press conference that stood out as a bit of a change from the norm. He liked the way his team had practiced in the days leading up to New England's 27-6 win over the Texans on Sunday night, and he decided to highlight the effort his players showed him.
"Well, first of all I am real proud of our team this week," he said. "It was a tough week. I thought we competed hard all week, in terms of preparation, on the practice field, we practiced in pads and worked on a lot of fundamental things and those guys had a great attitude about it."
Belichick pointed out that the Patriots worked out in pads in part because that's a rarity for this time of year.
Since the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and NFLPA was signed back in 2011, all NFL teams have been permitted just 14 fully-padded practices during the regular season. Teams are allowed one per week through the first 11 weeks of the season. After that, teams have to pick their spots as to when they ramp up contact.
After consecutive losses to the Broncos and Eagles, the Patriots opted to use one of their remaining padded practices on Wednesday of last week. They had struggled on special teams, their pass protection had broken down, and their tackling had been sloppy at times.
What better time to do some full-contact fine-tuning?
Players could have complained or gone half-speed, Belichick explained, by they approached the challenge with a certain zeal and became a better team for it.
"You put on pads at the end of the season . . . Look, nobody's 100 percent this time of the year on our team or on any other team you play," Belichick said. "That's football. It takes a toll on everybody. So it's certainly the more comfortable way just to not have contact during the week -- which we're forced to do that the majority of the time anyway in terms of padded contact -- so not having that during the week, and when you do have it, then sometimes players can look at it as we're sore, we're banged up, [and take an] I-wish-we-weren't-doing-it type of attitude.
"But I think that our guys went out there and they worked hard. When we practiced on Wednesday, we definitely got better. We improved in a lot of the areas that fundamentally we were trying to address. I think that showed up in the game. It certainly wasn't perfect. I'm not trying to say that. But I thought that [it was] a hard week of preparation both on and off the field, and pushing each other. Not just each individual preparing separately, but preparing and adjusting with his teammates, and getting on the same page on communication and adjustments and how to handle certain situations. Especially against a team like Houston -- that defensively has a lot of great players and gives you a lot of looks, and offensively can play at a fast tempo and force tough communication situations -- our players did a good job of that all week."
Belichick said he felt confident in the week of work his team had put together long before their drubbing of the Texans, but he was pleased to see that work pay dividends.
"I told them that before the game, so it wasn't an after-the-fact thing," Belichick said. "I knew we had a good week of practice, and I knew we prepared hard, and I was just glad to see it show it last night. They got out what they put into that game. That was certainly a lot better than what we did last week."