Cassel: How Belichick uses opponents' comments to motivate his players


We all know Bill Belichick is great at eliminating distractions inside the building.

It starts from day one: The message is to only talk about yourself. You don’t talk about injuries. He’ll also tell you, "Don’t compare yourself to somebody else," because it just sounds ridiculous for you to say, "Well, I feel like I have the mobility of Josh Allen and the accuracy of Tom Brady." It just adds more expectations for you.

But when somebody on the opposing team says something, he sees it. He sees every comment that's made.

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When I was in New England, we used to have these paper printouts with full news feeds of any comment made by the opposing team. The quarterbacks sometimes used the bathroom closet to the coaches' offices, and we'd occasionally find those printouts in there and read up on comments being made by the opposing team.

A lot of times there's good information in there. Some organizations are different than the Patriots, so they’ll say things about strategy or what they’re trying to do or how they’re trying to take certain things away. So, you can pick up some little things.

It wasn't like the coaches planted the printouts in the bathroom or anything -- it wasn't that calculated. But that was our way of knowing that the coaches understood what was being said in the media.

Belichick will definitely bring comments to your attention, too. He’ll say, "Here’s what this guy said this week; he doesn’t think you’re very good." Or, "They don’t think our offensive line is worth s---."


It's a form of motivation, but it also isn't a distraction. It isn't a rallying cry that brings everyone together. It's just a little carrot to float out there, and if players are motivated by it, then that’s the way they take it.

Belichick will definitely bring comments to your attention. He’ll say, 'Here’s what this guy said this week; he doesn’t think you’re very good.' Or, 'They don’t think our offensive line is worth s---.'

Matt Cassel

I vividly remember in 2007 when Steelers safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a win before our game against them. Belichick brought it to our attention and let the whole team know. We called a play-action pass early in the game, Randy Moss ran right by him for a touchdown, and Tom Brady immediately started jawing with the guy by reminding him what he said before the game.

I also remember Joey Porter popping off about me before a game in 2008. You take it for what it's worth, because guys are going to say stuff. There are plenty of organizations that don't care what you say to the media. When I was in Buffalo with Rex Ryan, his philosophy was, "If you want to say something, then you better go back it up." But it wasn’t as much of a controlled environment.

The Patriots are much more calculated in their approach regarding how players respond to outside noise, how not to create distractions, and how to make it more about the team and the game itself.

Belichick will say, "Send them a big bouquet of flowers. Send them the perfume. Tell them how great they are. But come game day, that’s when you go out and prove yourself."

You don’t guarantee a victory or say, "This guy is dog s---" to give them extra motivation. Instead, you keep it all internal and don’t put anything out there that’s going to become a distraction.

You see it all the time when comments become a distraction for the team: You're answering questions from everyone who heard the comment or has a different opinion about it. You have to explain yourself, and that just takes away from your ability to focus on the game.

That's why the Patriots do what they do. When asked about the other team, you just play it straight down the middle and give them all the praise. But the coaches are very well-versed in everything other players are saying, because any edge they can get, they'll try to take advantage.


Editor's Note: Matt Cassel played 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback, including four with the Patriots from 2005 to 2008. He serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Boston, appearing on Pre/Postgame Live, as a guest on Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast every Thursday, and as a columnist each week during the season.