FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick's demeanor following Sunday's win over the Chargers, outside of one brief stretch during his press conference, served as an indicator that the Patriots were hitting their bye with what a coach might deem a best-case scenario.
The Patriots won, 21-13, moving their record to 6-2 at the season's midpoint. But they also proved that they had plenty to work on. Whether it's their struggles in the red zone, or how to manage personnel moving forward without Dont'a Hightower, there are more than enough areas of concern to keep everyone's attention over the course of the next week.
"No question about it," Belichick said. "We’re giving up too many big plays on defense and (offensively we) can’t convert on third down in the red area. Those are two huge issues."
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The players understand it, too. They'll use the next few days for some much-needed rest -- Belichick gave them Monday and Tuesday off, as well as Thursday through Sunday -- yet there is a feeling that they are still far from a finished product with half the regular season left to play.
"Losing going into the bye week is nothing that anybody wants," Alan Branch said. "Here or anywhere in the league. Going into the bye week with a win, and just being able to build on that, and being able to smooth things out going into this little stretch, it feels pretty good."
The Patriots are currently tied with the Steelers for the best record in the AFC. The Chiefs could join them with a win Monday night over the Broncos. With just two losses, the Bills sit at 5-2 after beating the Raiders on Sunday.
Given where they are -- despite integrating new pieces and dealing with injuries to two of their top players in Hightower and Julian Edelman -- Belichick praised his group for the toughness it has shown this season. They've played a lot of football, he reminded reporters Sunday night, with few breaks since reporting for training camp back in July.
"We’ve been going here for, you know, six weeks of preseason and eight regular season games," Belichick said. "We’ve been playing a lot of football. Every week it’s been a grind whether it’s going back to the preseason scrimmages, whether it’s the preseason games. We’ve been at it here for a long time. I ask these guys to come in every day and put in a hard day of preparation, practice, training, film study and so forth.
"I’d say I’ve been impressed with the way they’ve done that and have been able to grind it out day after day. It’s not easy. Look, it’s a job. We don’t mind doing it -- I’m not saying that. But still, it’s hard. And every team has got good players. Every team has difficult schemes. Every team requires a lot of communication and coordination to get plays right and to get situations right . . .
"Week after week after week or day after day after day or hour after hour, coming in at eight in the morning and grinding through it until 4:30, 5:00 at night. Those guys are working hard and it’s paying off, but they’re working hard. They’re grinding it."