Patriots

Bill Belichick gets to 300 wins because his teams took care of a million details

Bill Belichick gets to 300 wins because his teams took care of a million details

In the first quarter of the Patriots undressing of the Cleveland Browns, lead official Tony Corrente announced the Browns sideline had been given a warning.

Their players weren’t staying within the “players box.”

“The hell is that?” you ask.

Well, there’s a yellow line in the bench area that’s about six feet away from the sideline. Players are supposed to stay behind that line unless they are coming on or off the field. Coaches can be in the space between the yellow line and the sideline. Nobody’s supposed to stray inside the 30-yard lines or stand on the white sideline paint.

It’s a housekeeping thing. A detail. The chain gang shouldn’t have to step around players and coaches while they do their jobs. Coaches shouldn’t have to wade through players to eyeball what’s happening on the field. A team that’s on its stuff doesn’t want its sideline to look like a bus stop so that — when a coach needs a player — he can easily turn and find him.

Here’s what the Browns sideline looked like in the second quarter during a Patriots offensive drive.

That’s after they got the sideline warning.

Here’s what the Patriots sideline looked like when the Browns were driving on them in the third quarter. 

That’s what it always looks like.

Bill Belichick won his 300th career game on Sunday. I’m sure that 24 years ago when he was coaching in Cleveland, he had an orderly sideline then, too, and it still didn’t stop him from eventually being fired.

But, in a way, those sideline shots help illustrate something bigger about the small details the Patriots care about compared to the rest of the league.

They help illustrate why one coach — even though he got fired there, and was taking on water here in early 2001 — is now recognized as the greatest coach in NFL history, and the other, first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens, is probably just going to be a placeholder until the next Browns coach takes over.

🏈 PATRIOTS 27, BROWNS 13

As the game in the rain unfolded, the Browns turned the ball over on its first three possessions. There were two fumbles. One came when Nick Chubb had the ball kicked out of his hands by a teammate going ass over teakettle. The other came at the end of an outstanding Chubb run when Patriot Jonathan Jones chased him down and punched the ball out.

There was an intercepted shovel pass when a Browns player didn’t execute a block and second-year maverick quarterback Baker Mayfield volleyed the ball into the chest of Patriot Lawrence Guy.

The Browns — coming off a bye week — were down 17-0 before the crowd had filed into Gillette. They assassinated their chances in the first 15 minutes, and over the next few quarters kept intermittently firing bullets into their own feet just to make sure they had no chance to win.

🏈 PATRIOTS 27, BROWNS 13

The Browns took 12 penalties. There was a false start near the end of the first after the Browns had first-and-10 at the Pats 40. That was followed by a hold on first-and-15. Next thing you know, it’s third-and-24.

After Cleveland got it to 17-7, the Patriots had a drive in which Cleveland was called for a defensive holding then an illegal use of hands. Kitchens challenged a fourth down spot on a completion to Mohamed Sanu. He lost that one.

On the final play of the third quarter, the Browns took a false start on first-and-10. After the teams switched ends, they took another false start and had first-and-20. On a third-and-3, they ran an illegal pick on a play that got Odell Beckham open for a 27-yard gain. Kitchens challenged that and lost again.

Later in the fourth, with the Browns still kinda hanging around at 27-10, they got whistled for offensive pass interference on a third-and-1. On a fourth-and-1 with 2:37 left and hope fading, they jammed in one more false start to force them to settle for a field goal.  

Despite it all, the Browns left Foxboro on Sunday feeling pretty good about themselves. To them, it was just a few mistakes, a few minor details. Clean those up and they’re right there. The Patriots aren’t that much better than them.

“We had a lot of confidence going into this game and we got a lot of confidence coming out of this game because we understand why we lost the game,” said Kitchens. “We lost the game because we turned the ball over and penalties. We need to stop committing penalties. Alright? We need to focus and concentrate on enough on staying onsides, so we don’t end up in first-and-20. Alright? That’s how you win games. And then, take care of the football.

“You know going in that, we can’t continue to jump offsides, we can’t continue to do the things that get you beat,” Kitchens also added. “It’s very evident, that that’s what is getting us beat. It’s turnovers and penalties. That’s it, turnovers and penalties.

The interception?

“We were supposed to block the end, we didn’t block the end,” Kitchens explained. “So, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I mean, I know, we were supposed to block the end and we didn’t block the end. So it ends up being an interception.”

Chubb’s fumbles?

“It’s very out of character,” Kitchens defended. “I think it means more to him than anything. You know, Nick had a good night. He holds onto the ball, he knows that. I’m not killing Nick Chubb about it, because Nick Chubb is going to be there in the end.

The Browns sure know how to talk it. Here’s Mayfield on the presnap penalties.

“It's just non-disciplined; guys not being focused on doing their job,” he explained. “It starts first-and-foremost with me, to be a leader every single down. Get our guys lined up, make sure that we're set, we're paying attention because if we can't use cadence we're hurting ourselves. Any time we try to use a double-count, it seems like we're false starting a little bit, but we'll get the discipline part fixed, the accountability.”

Belichick has said in the past that, in order for a team to learn how to win it first has to figure out how not to lose. There’s a level of organization and attention to detail that players have to understand isn’t Harry High School crap, because it creates a level of accountability and stability that then carries on to preparation and playing.

Plenty of coaches come in as hard-asses, hammer the little things and don’t get the buy-in because players push back on being treated like kindergartners (to borrow a lament from Adalius Thomas lodged back in 2009). Greg Schiano probably had a very neat sideline too. He didn’t last because he couldn’t get buy-in and a revolt ended his time.

Belichick’s gotten the buy-in on the little things so that they are now elementary. And that leaves him to not worry about the order of the sidelines or other housekeeping items and frees him up to worry about other weirdness like when the roof will be closed during the Super Bowl or being able to get his eyes on the opposing head coach or cleat length, officials’ tendencies or a million other things that a coach who can’t get his team to stop jumping before the snap never get to.

Bill Belichick has 300 wins because he was on the details a long time ago.

Mohamed Sanu has been here about 15 minutes. He’s over the moon about being in an organized setting.

“Even in a short time here and watching over his career being on the outside looking in I see why he’s successful,” said Sanu. “Because he’s so detailed in work. No stone’s unturned. Make sure all the guys are so prepared.

“Our sideline? It’s got two lines to be back,” he said. “I’ve never seen it before. Usually guys are hugging the line, hugging the line, hugging the line, in the way. He literally has it so detailed that no one would ever go over the line. ‘This is what you should do. So do it.’ ”

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing at what time or where,” said linebacker Kyle Van Noy. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a preseason game or a regular season game or the Super Bowl, he cares about winning. He’ll do whatever it takes and it shows.

“Prime example was last week against the Jets when he pulls us in and hones us in on the details of what to not let happen (when the Patriots were ahead 24-0),” he pointed out. “Same thing happened tonight. Drilling it in to us to keep doing your job up 17-0. He sets the standard, everybody knows that.”

Belichick’s created a culture that — despite its relentless demands and isolated bouts of pushback — players embrace because of the payoff.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Tom Brady beamed after the game. “Pretty amazing. Three hundred wins is pretty spectacular. He’s the best coach of all time and it’s a privilege to play for him for as many years as I have. He’s taught me so much on and off the field, just been a great mentor for me. Being here 20 years ago — it was his first year, it was my first year. It’s been a great journey. Just proud of him, everything he’s accomplished. Amazing to think that he coached for another place and they didn’t think he was good enough, and then he comes here and does a great job. It’s a great celebration for him and certainly hard-earned, well-deserved. And the only thing better than 300 is 301. So, we’ll be back at it this week.” 

“He’s had a big influence on me,” said Brady. “He’s taught me about pro football. He’s taught me about leadership and consistency, dependability. All the things I think he really preaches to us as a player is what we get out of him as a coach. His consistency, dependability, trust, confidence – all those things over a long period of time really add up. So, he’s just a very stable figure when he gets up and speaks to us. It’s about trying to win games, and I think we all appreciate that.”

Shining a light on sideline decorum as a symptom of why the Patriots are a good team is bound to cause eyerolls. But anyone thinking that’s the point is either dumb or obtuse.

Being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there is a matter of consistency. Can you meet a simple expectation? Yes? Then how about a more important one like remembering the snap count or blocking the end you’re supposed to block or not getting a ball punched out on one carry and kicked out on another?

If you can do those things, he can give you more. Which is what Devin McCourty described

“(One of his strengths is) his ability to give ownership to the players,” McCourty explained. “There’s a lot of times for us as defenders, we go out there and he’ll tell us like, ‘Hey, you’ve got five different options right here. Whatever you see best, by formation, by personnel, make the call.’

And he’s told, whether it’s myself, Duron [Harmon], Pat [Chung], who really makes a lot of calls, [Dont’a] Hightower, Jamie [Collins] Bent [Ja’Whaun Bentley], E-Rob [Elandon Roberts] – he tells us all as signal callers, ‘Nine of out 10 times, I trust you’re going to make the right decision. So I don’t want to tell you what to do and ruin the game.’

“As he always says, ‘Coaches mess up games more than anything.’ And I think him allowing us to do that, for one, it makes us want to study and understand the game, to take accountability to our coaches, to our teammates. And then I think two, it allows us to just play free – go out there, study the game and do what you think is necessary. I think once you’re able to do that, good or bad, it falls on us and we take that responsibility. I think that’s why you see us playing so fast as a defense right now because if something goes wrong on the field, we don’t have to look to the sideline.”

And when the Patriots do look to their sideline, they’ll know where to find the greatest coach in NFL history. Right out front, his team behind him. 

Not in some jumbled mess of humanity.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

All’s quiet on the Tom Brady front at the moment.

Perfectly reasonable.

In contract negotiations, the Patriots are traditionally a team that waits … and waits … and waits … and then gets down to business clinically and dispassionately.

If an impasse hits, their approach is often, “See what’s out there. We’ll leave the light on for ya.”

They’ve done that with Moss, McCourty, Hightower, Bruschi and many others over the years. All came back and re-signed after brief free agent tours. Will they do the same with Brady?

Perhaps. But there are two big problems the team faces if it decides to do that.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

First, the Patriots can’t sit in the parking lot drumming their fingers on the steering wheel while every other team is in the store, trying Brady on for size.

They need to get in and shop for a quarterback too just in case Brady does decide to go to Indy, Tampa, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Carolina, Washington, Chicago or Miami. Saving Brady’s spot until he’s ready to answer? Dice roll. 

Second problem? The $13.5M that hits New England’s 2020 salary cap if/when Brady becomes a free agent on March 18 at 4 p.m. is a wrench in the works.

(SKIP ON DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT THE BUSINESS BLAH, BLAH)

Need a refresher on why exactly that hit even exists? Here’s the simple summation from CBS’ Joel Corry where he explains the Patriots borrowing a bookkeeping strategy the Saints used with Drew Brees to give Brady a raise (not an extension) last August:

The Saints restructured Brees' contract last March for salary cap purposes by converting $16.2 million of Brees' $23 million in 2019 compensation into a fully guaranteed third day of the league year roster bonus. Since the roster bonus was fully guaranteed, it was treated like signing bonus under the salary cap where it was prorated over the life of the contract. The Saints added a 2021 contract year that also automatically voids on the last day of the 2019 league year. 

Brady's contract was reworked last August to raise his 2019 salary from $15 million to $23 million. Brees' most recent contracts with the Saints were seemingly used as a template in Brady's renegotiation. Two contract years for 2020 and 2021 with $30 million and $32 million salaries automatically voiding on the last day of the 2019 league year were included for cap purposes, so Brady's fully guaranteed $20.25 million roster bonus could be prorated over three years at $6.75 million annually through 2021 instead of just 2019. The renegotiated contract also contains a clause prohibiting the Patriots from designating Brady as a franchise or transition player.

The Patriots can’t play the same financial shell game. The expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement means teams can’t kick the financial can down the road into phony future years as the Patriots and Saints did with Brady and Brees.

If a new CBA is agreed to prior to free agency, that’s good news.

If not, they can play a new game with different toys using option bonuses or completion bonuses.

The issue with that is, the $13.5M cap hit from the voidable years and a competitive compensation plus making sure there’s room to get Brady better offensive support means a multi-year deal has to be done because his 2020 cap hit would be astronomical.

If a multi-year pact wasn’t what the Patriots wanted to do with a 42-year-old, they won’t love doing it with a 43-year-old. And if they do agree to a three-year deal, the team will then be in the uncomfortable spot of having to release Brady if he wants to keep on past 2020.

There is an existing sliver of cap-relief hope for the Patriots. According to our friend Miguel Benzan of the Boston Sports Journal (a crutch for me whenever I write cap-related stories), the Patriots could get credited for past charges against the cap related to Antonio Brown ($9M) and Aaron Hernandez ($3.25M).

I’m trying to find out if the team is anticipating that and/or actively trying to recoup. It would be a boon if that $12.25M were credited back before March 16, though, since it would nearly offset the Brady dead dough.

(REJOIN HERE IF YOU SKIPPED THE BUSINESS BLAH, BLAH)

So where do things currently stand? After conversations over the past few days, this is my understanding of where things are.

Negotiations will begin "in a couple of weeks." I interpret that as during or immediately after the NFL Combine which starts about February 26 and concludes March 1.

By that time, Brady should have back-channeled his way to an understanding of what’s out there. Last week, I wondered whether it was advantageous for the Patriots if teams did make their pitches to Brady before "legal tampering" begins on March 16.

My understanding is that the Patriots aren’t worried about other team’s financial pitches. Their business with Brady revolves around the direction of the 2020 offensive personnel,  Brady getting some input on that and Brady’s role in the team’s future. They aren’t going to be super-vigilant about tampering. 

Something worth noting is there is very little rancor right now. The situation is what it is. The sides are going to work to make it work. Why they are here, what could have been done to avoid this, who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s to blame? I’m not sensing it.

There’s been plenty in the past. Now – with Brady having the freedom to say, “No thanks, it’s been great…” and the team truly being in the “year-to-year” contractual situation they wanted, nobody seems to have an active resentment. Also, I think the gravity of what may loom – the specter of a historic 20-year run ending – has added an air of solemnity.

I’ve also heard we shouldn’t be expecting TOM BRADY FREE AGENT TOUR 2020: COAST-TO-COAST WITH THE GOAT! If Brady hits free agency, he may try to set up meetings at one location instead of creating a circus. That’s a “what I’m hearing…” so take it for what that’s worth.

Reiterating what I’ve previously reported but have had again mentioned, the “Patriots are willing to go north of $30M” report wasn’t something either side loved.

For the Patriots, it created a false expectation before any negotiations began and, from the perspective of the Brady camp, it missed the point of what his main issue is. 

Also, while negotiations haven’t begun, the team is plotting a course for adding players that fit Brady’s strengths to help on offense whether through free agency or trade. Tight end is a position of emphasis.

Finally, if Brady goes to another team? The people he’ll leave behind in Foxboro will be highly, highly motivated to have a 2020 season that will make Brady wonder if he made the right decision.

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: