FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick did what Bill Belichick sometimes does. He protested a question thrown his way during a press conference.
But this question wasn't dismissed with a syllable or two. This was an affront to one of the best players to ever play the game, in Belichick's opinion, one of the best players he's ever coached.
"You’ve seen a lot of good pass rushers in your career," Belichick was asked, "starting with Lawrence Taylor . . . Does Mack rank up there with the better ones you’ve seen?"
Oh no. He didn't.
"Now, wait a minute," Belichick said. "We’re talking about Lawrence Taylor now. Yeah, I’m not putting anybody in Lawrence Taylor’s class. So, you can put everybody down below that. With a lot of respect to a lot of good players now, but we’re talking about Lawrence Taylor."
Belichick was done quite a bit of talking about Lawrence Taylor over the course of his NFL career. Even just in the last five years, there's been about 3,000 words of Belichick press conferences and conference calls spent on Taylor's greatness.
And though Belichick puts Taylor in a class of his own, there have been some comparisons to Taylor in that time -- JJ Watt and Jamie Collins are mentioned in the same breath as Taylor, though in different contexts -- and others stretching back further.
We thought, with Belichick taking such a strong stance on Taylor's greatness once again Wednesday, that it'd be a good time to resurrect some of Belichick's mentions of Taylor over the years.
Dec. 20, 2013: Not an error-repeater
How many times have we heard Belichick say it over the years? You can't win until you learn how not to lose. Players who avoid losing plays are among the most valuable to a club. Obviously Taylor did more than that for the Giants back in the 1980s, but Belichick remembers Taylor's ability to play penalty-free as one of his greatest traits.
"Lawrence Taylor. How many sacks did he have? How many times was he offside? Go back and look how many times he was offside," Belichick said. "It wasn’t very many. There’s a guy that hit the quarterback, made as many plays defensively as any player in football, certainly any player I’ve ever coached but any player in football – I’d put him up against anybody in terms of big plays, hitting the quarterback, tackles beyond the line of scrimmage. I don’t care what the stats are, a lot of plays that he made, that somebody else made, but he was an impact, dynamic, as disruptive a player defensively as there’s probably ever been in the National Football League. How many times was he offside? Was he offside? Yeah, but he was a pretty disruptive player without doing that. I think those are examples of what I’m talking about – for all of us. We all make mistakes, even the great ones, but they don’t repeat them, they don’t make very many of them, they correct it, it’s important enough to them to move on and get it right. That’s how you do it. You get it right."
July 30, 2014: The kind of guy you'd steer clear of
Asked about the complementary nature of the on-the-field relationship between Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, Belichick explained that it was important that both players had earned the respect of opposing play-callers. If not, then the offensive attack could've tilted toward what was perceived as the weaker side. Belichick's foremost example of that happening? Of course, Taylor, who was a player offensive coordinators tried to avoid as much as possible.
"Once he established himself pretty early in his career what type of impact he had, things started to tilt away from Lawrence or to him in terms of protection, however you want to look at it," Belichick said. "When we picked up [Carl] Banks, then that really, there was now a much more of an equilibrium there and, ‘OK, you’re going away from Taylor but now you’re going into Banks. You’re going away from Banks, you’re going into Taylor.’ "
Dec. 15, 2014: Effort on special teams
If you can somehow find a way to work Taylor into a special teams conversation . . . you've hit Bill Belichick Bingo. When Belichick was posed a question about starting players contributing -- and putting forth good effort -- in the kicking game, he came back to Taylor.
"When I was with the Giants, Lawrence Taylor was on four special teams," Belichick said. ". . . And [he] made an impact on all of them, too. He wasn’t just out there taking up space. Whether it’s [Julian] Edelman or [Jamie] Collins or [Rob] Ninkovich, you can go right down the line, the guys that are out there – we’ve had them in the past, the [Rodney] Harrisons, the [Tedy] Bruschis, the [Mike] Vrabels, the [Lawyer] Milloys, Troy Brown – some of our best players made some of the biggest plays in this franchise’s history in the kicking game. Players that are competitive that want to help their team win, want to help their team win in every situation, not selectively. Like they’re just going to do it here, do it there, because that’s when it’s convenient or when they feel like – good football players, championship players, winning players, they do it every chance they get."
Dec. 31, 2014: On rare skill sets, from Collins to Taylor
If you want to talk about unique size and speed combinations, once-in-a-long-time physical talents, chances are Belichick is going to bring up the best pass-rusher of a generation. That's exactly what he did when he was asked about another rare -- if not comparable -- athlete.
"Look, Jamie Collinses don’t – it’s not like there’s two or three dozen of them in the draft every year," Belichick said. "We’re lucky to have one. Was LawrenceTaylor a prototype outside linebacker? Where’s the next Lawrence Taylor? Those guys don’t grow on trees. So, I don’t know. I think that’s part of building your team is trying to anticipate where your team is going and to a certain extent where, especially defensively because you have to react to what they put on the field. Defensively you have to be able to defend those things. How do you construct the defense so you can handle the different challenges that you have?"
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Oct. 14, 2015: Not just a sack artist, a tackler
Belichick has coached his share of strong tacklers. Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung frequently come up in that conversation as among the best he's ever coached. Any guesses as to who else might've worked his way into that conversation for Belichick? Anyone?
"[Good tacklers] come in different shapes and sizes," Belichick said, "but not many guys got away from Taylor, I’ll say that. But probably one of the biggest tackles that I’ve ever been a part of was by a guy who had a reputation of not being a great tackler and that was Everson Walls. But he brought down Thurman Thomas in the open field to keep it from getting closer in Super Bowl XXV. That was a huge, huge play that if you would have said Everson Walls tackled Thurman Thomas, I don’t know which one of those you would have bet on. It depends on maybe who you were pulling for. But that was a great tackle. We’ve always had good tacklers. Terry Kinard was a great tackler. Devin McCourty is an outstanding tackler. Chung is one of the best tacklers that I’ve had at safety. Look, everybody is going to miss, just like every receiver is going to drop a pass, just like every quarterback is going to throw an interception, just like every running back at some point is going to drop the ball. But the guys that don’t miss many tackles, you want them on your team. And it shows up in the kicking game, too. The kicking game is the same as the defense – you’ve still got to get the guy with the ball."
Nov. 1, 2015: The best linebacker group he's had?
Belichick's love for Taylor extended to the entire linebacking corps he had in those years. As strong as the linebacker group was in 2015 -- with Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Collins at the core -- Belichick still went with the unit headlined by Taylor, as he should have.
"We have a good group," Belichick said. "I’m not taking anything away from these guys. When you look back at that Giants group, first of all, two of those guys were in the Hall of Fame – [Harry] Carson and Taylor. Banks probably would be knocking on the door there, too, if he wasn’t playing with those other guys. Pepper [Johnson] was one of the best linebackers in the league during his career. That’s a pretty high bar right there. I’m not sure any linebacker group would really . . . It’d be hard for many to match that. I doubt there’d be many above it. That’s a pretty special group there."
Dec. 9, 2015: Some Taylor in Watt's game
What JJ Watt did for a span of about three seasons, say from 2012 through 2014, was remarkable. He was as disruptive a force as there was in the game -- and perhaps in league history. He was mentioned in the same breath as Taylor by man, which sparked frequent questions for Belichick as to how the two might be similar.
"He’s pretty special," Belichick said of Watt. "He does a lot of things really well, and everybody game plans for him every game. He gets a lot of double teams, the line sliding to his side, teams trying to run away from him, teams trying to handle him, but he does a good job with all of it. In spite of all the attention he gets and the schemes that are put in week to week to try to handle him, he still has a tremendous amount of production.
"They move him around a little bit, so he’s not always in the same place, although he plays a lot on the offensive right, the defensive left, but he shows up in other spots as well. Romeo [Crennel] and Coach [Paul] Pasqualoni have done a good job of moving things around enough to keep the offense off balanced. He’s done a really good job of dealing with a lot of extra attention, whatever it happens to be – line slide, double team, tight end staying in – similar to some of the things that we saw from teams dealing with Taylor at New York. He’s got that kind of disruptiveness . . ."
"I wouldn’t go above Taylor because of the versatility that Taylor had in terms of pass coverage. He was a pass rusher and a run player and a pass defender. He was really an elite player at everything, including the kicking game. And of course watt has blocked a lot of kicks, too, but I think for the position he plays he’s as disruptive of a defensive linemen as I‘ve seen in the league in the same general category as L.T."
Sept. 19, 2016: More on the Watt/Taylor comparisons
"They both play pretty hard, yeah," Belichick said. "I think J.J. is a relentless, a relentless player. Very instinctive and I'd say a lot like Taylor, when at the most critical times in the most important plays, that's where those guys showed the most and that's what great players do."
Sept. 23, 2016: More game speed than timed speed
Early in the 2016 season, Belichick went on a little run of Taylor praise. When asked about a player's ability to get down the field and how much, if at all, that translates from a 40-yard dash time, Belichick brought up the 6-foot-3, 240-pound game-wrecker.
"We’ve seen a lot of fast guys not be the first guy down on kickoff coverage. We’ve seen a lot of guys that aren’t that fast be the first guy down on kickoff coverage and so forth," Belichick said. "And there are some players, Lawrence Taylor was one, that however fast he needed to run he ran and caught the guy. It didn’t matter what that guy’s time-speed was. It didn’t matter what Lawrence’s time-speed was."
Aug. 14, 2017: Saved his best for the biggest moments
Bill Belichick, like any coach, is looking for consistent effort. But if you can play well and still stash away a little extra for a game's most critical situations, then that might put you in the upper-echelons of Belichick's best-of list.
"A guy who plays every play can play hard. But, realistically, there’s another level, there’s another gear at certain times, whether it be critical plays or a particular play," Belichick said. "I’d say, in my experience, some of the good or great players have been able to identify and achieve that kind of play. Lawrence Taylor was one. He played hard. He was a tough player, one of the most competitive players I’ve ever coached, but every play wasn’t the top play. But, every important play was.
"If it was the fourth quarter or third-down situation, you were going to get his top effort on that play, which is when you really needed it. Not saying that he didn’t play the other plays hard – he did – but there was another gear based on the situation or the importance of a particular play. And he could recognize that. He could identify, ‘OK, this is it.’ And he had the ability to reach down and get that top effort on that play when you needed it the most. So that’s, I’d say, one thing about the great players like L.T.
"Some guys, you look at those plays and you kind of say, ‘C’mon, this is the biggest play of the game,’ and that’s not his best play. I don’t think I ever said that about Taylor. There may be some other plays along the way that you’re like, ‘Hey, we could do a little more than this here. We could do a little more than that, OK.’ But never in a critical situation, the biggest plays of the game. I think that’s what made him a great player."
Sep. 20, 2017: Wait . . . there's more!
You thought the Watt-to-Taylor comparisons were through?
"Yeah, similar – motor, effort, strength, quickness, instincts, the ability to make game-changing plays at critical times in the game, knowing when the big play – critical third-down or fourth-quarter play or red-area play – knowing those critical plays in the game," Belichick said. "As good as Taylor would play all game, that was the time when he would play at his best. Really, I think Romeo [Crennel] could probably comment on that better than I could because he’s coached both players extensively. You know, I really only coached one. I mean, I’ve observed Watt and I have a lot of respect for him, but it’s not like being with the guy every day. But, there’s a lot of similarities there."
Dec. 20, 2017: Always learning, always adapting
Belichick was asked late last season about Rob Gronkowski's development as a player over the course of his career, and particularly when it comes to understanding what opposing defenses are trying to do to him.
Belichick touched on Gronkowski, Slater as a special-teamer, and . . . yup. You guessed it.
"Well, I think Rob's seen a lot of different coverages, seen a lot of different looks, ways that people try to defend him," Belichick said. "I think as any player like that sees more of those things he learns how to deal with them. 'Here's how I deal with this situation and here's how I deal with that situation. This works. This doesn't, or this works better than that, or this has a place.' I think those kinds of things that specifically apply to him.
"The same thing that Matt Slater deals with on kick coverage. The same thing that when I coached Taylor that he dealt with as a pass rusher. You see five or six different things that everybody else doesn’t see."
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