FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick acknowledged it on Friday night, almost as soon as his team's preseason finale was over: "All right, well we didn’t have a really good night tonight in any phase of the game," Belichick said. "That’s obvious.
But in the same breath, Belichick pointed out that he believed his team practiced well during the week of joint sessions with the Raiders in Las Vegas. It was a bit of an unusual approach for a coach who isn't known for going out of his way to find a glass-half-full view.
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"Might have left it on the practice field on Tuesday and Wednesday," Belichick added. "Certainly practiced a lot better than we played out there tonight."
A few days removed from that showing, Belichick was back behind the microphone and wanted to put preseason results into context.
"I don't think you really know where your team is until you get to about midseason," Belichick said. "Mid-October. Play five, six, seven games. Match up against some different teams. See for real what your strengths and weaknesses are. And your opponents as well. What it looks like on paper, what it is in preseason, what it is in the regular season -- I don't think they're all the same.
"People really start attacking you. You start attacking other people. You get a much better feel for what your problems are and maybe what your strengths are, how good they actually are."
Belichick is often in the message-sending business. Whether that's in front of a team meeting, on the radio, or in a press-conference setting, he speaks to his players and coaches in a variety of different ways.
But when asked if it was important to convey to players -- particularly young or new players -- that who they are as a group may not be defined until October, Belichick insisted it is important they understand they need to be competitive in the here and now.
But, in the same breath, he mentioned he believes there's some truth to the line that has been credited to him for years: the opening month of the season is an "extension of the preseason."
"It's not a message for today," Belichick said when asked about emphasizing his mid-October comment with the rest of his team. "We'll deal with that later. I think a lot of veteran players are aware of it. I've heard a lot of people comment on it. September is an extension of the preseason for your team, developing your team. I think there's some truth to that.
"But games start now so it's important to be competitive. I think we saw some of that last year. We see it every year, but we certainly saw it last year."
The Patriots lost their season-opener last year at home against the Dolphins in what ended up being a one-point game. Winning that game may have changed the outlook of the remainder of the season and impacted the playoff picture.
But the Patriots began the season in 2021 with a record of 2-4. Around mid-October, they warmed up, winning seven straight and ultimately making the postseason at 10-7. Clearly, as Belichick explained, they don't need to have everything figured out by Sept. 11.
Still, as the Patriots have experienced struggles at times this summer, it's worth wondering if Belichick's messaging to the team is sent in such a way that players maintain buy-in as they deal with the growing pains associated with a new offensive system and a changing coaching staff.
Patriots de facto offensive coordinator Matt Patricia was asked on Monday if he needs to adjust his approach at all in order to help secure buy-in while players grind away trying to adapt to a new scheme. Coaches in New England, for years, have been known for being hard on their teams -- particularly when those teams are successful.
But perhaps giving the team what it needs, from a messaging standpoint, changes when the results are substandard and the players could use a boost.
"I think, for us, the room is really good," Patricia said. "We've got really smart players in there. We got guys that understand the game. We got guys that want to learn the game. I think it's always a great opportunity for everybody to see the game a little bit differently or maybe learn or grow.
"I think that as we progress with the game of football, if we're not learning all the time -- that's coaches and players -- then we're probably not getting better or improving in any way. I think that's the focus for us. Day by day, try to go and see how we can improve that day, bit by bit as we go."
The Patriots are about two weeks away from a game that matters. Belichick may want his players to understand that the games matter now. But what he said on Monday made it sound as though he also wants it in the backs of their minds that they're not yet a finished product.