Cassel: Is Pats-Saints a trap game? Not on Bill's watch


No one does a better job than Bill Belichick when it comes to concentrating on the present.

The media will bring up "Tom Brady week" and the Patriots' Week 4 game against the Buccaneers because it’s on the horizon and it’s an exciting story to talk about.

But in that building, their sole focus is the New Orleans Saints.

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They’re not talking about the Brady game. They’re not even recognizing it yet. They have another good opponent coming up in a Saints team that didn’t play well last Sunday and got beat, 26-7.

So Belichick will be saying, "This team is hungry to come back and have a better performance. They have a lot of talent. It’s another opportunity for us to get better this week and beat a good opponent."

I know Belichick respects Sean Payton as a coach, so it’s every man on board for this week. There’s not enough time to talk about another opponent, to be honest. The entire time I was in New England, whether it was a big game or not, you just don’t look ahead. You can’t. You’re going to get beat, because the teams are too good if you don’t focus on the opponent at hand.


Belichick is extremely calculated in how he approaches every week. Everybody could be talking about a storyline, but he constantly reminds players, "We have to focus on this week. We can’t look ahead." 

It’s not just "this week," either: It’s from one day to the next, executing the install of our game plan and stacking good days of practice.

I remember after Spygate in 2008, we were going up against the Chargers, who were undefeated at the time. It was a big game and there was so much outside noise that definitely could have been a distraction. But we went out and dominated. They do a really good job when you’re inside that building of focusing on the task at hand.

That's not always the case on other teams.

When I was with the Buffalo Bills, Rex Ryan was completely different. He was like, “I’ll tell you right now: I’m here so we can win a Super Bowl. That’s our goal."

He had a much larger perspective on how to approach the season, and he would be very up front about it. Rex would look big picture all the time.

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He was also a bigger "rah rah" guy. Going into our first game against the Patriots in 2015, every coach had a story about the “bully on the block" and how we needed to go "stand up to that bully" and show them that we’re a worthy opponent. The coaches would say, "I remember when there was an older kid that picked on me, and it wasn’t until I stepped up and hit them in the mouth that they stopped."

It's pretty interesting how coaches approach things differently, but in my opinion, the best method is to block out the distractions.

Even next week against Brady and the Bucs, the Patriots will have the same approach. Because when you make some of these games bigger than others, you feel that as a player as well. You know it in the back of your mind, but if your coaches are coming in and saying, “We’re playing the best quarterback of all time, they have the league's best offensive weapons, and their defense is stout,” then you’re sitting there as a player going, “Do we even have a chance to beat this team?” Rather than focusing on how to attack this team and how to take away specific things they like to do.

Showing the team through film how you can beat your opponent and then stacking up good days of practice: That’s what gives you confidence going into a game. Not all of the noise that will come with playing a team like Tampa Bay.

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.