Patriots

In one interview, Tomlin breaks every rule in Belichick's book

In one interview, Tomlin breaks every rule in Belichick's book

It was shaping up to be a delicious dose of schadenfreude for Patriots fans.

The Steelers allowed a Packers game-tying touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in regulation of their Sunday night matchup, and with one slip, Pittsburgh could've seen its No. 1 seed in the AFC vanish.

To the Aaron Rodgerless-Packers. At home. After beginning the day as a two-touchdown favorite in Vegas.

A last-second 53-yard game-winning field goal from Steelers kicker Chris Boswell spoiled the spot for those in New England, but for an instant the prospect of a Green Bay upset dangled in front of them like a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye.

And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin only made the moment juicier by doing his damnedest to break every Bill Belichick PR rule on the books in one sit-down interview with NBC's Tony Dungy.

“Man, I’m going to embrace the elephant in the room," Tomlin told Dungy when asked about a looming Week 15 matchup with the Patriots in Pittsburgh. "It’s going to be fireworks. It’s probably going to be Part One, and that’s going to be a big game. But probably, if we’re both doing what we’re supposed to do, the second one" -- i.e., the AFC Championship Game in January -- "is really going to be big. And what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, and determine the location in the second one.”

So let's see how many Belichick rules Tomlin broke:

Look past the game at hand to get worked up about another one taking place at a later date? Check.

Peer about two months into the future to predict a playoff matchup? Check.

Insult the remaining opponents on the schedule -- aside from the Patriots -- by indicating they are mere formalities to be rolled over before and after what Tomlin believes will certainly be Battle for Homefield? Check.

Predict victory? (See below) Check.

The hubris. The lack of discipline. The scattershot focus . . . The trifecta. 

And here's the thing: Most of the football world would nod in agreement with everything Tomlin said. The expectation is that homefield advantage for the playoffs will be determined by what happens at Heinz Field on Dec. 17. That Tomlin feels the same way and was willing to share gave us in the media the kind of honesty we crave.

But that doesn't make it the intelligent thing to do. It's one thing for reporters and fans to postulate. It's an entirely different kettle of pierogis for Tomlin to say it so publicly, especially since he knows the weight his words in the media carry with his players.

Consider this back-and-forth that Tomlin had with Dungy during the same interview. The topic was how Tomlin handles his press conferences.

Dungy: “So you use that press conference to talk to the team?”

Tomlin: “No question. And that’s probably my primary function.”

So how, then, does Tomlin think his team will react when they hear their coach say that the Patriots game is the last one on the schedule that matters? Or when he says they're already championship-caliber?

"We can win it all," Tomlin told Dungy. "We should win it all. I sense that about the group. In terms of talent, in terms of having enough competition, depth, I think we check all those boxes. But, checking the boxes doesn’t run the race.”

You'd find Belichick wearing Gucci on the sidelines before he ever uttered anything remotely similar in front of a camera.

"Being around Coach Belichick -- and being so focused on that one game at a time -- that actually sounds really weird," ex-Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who shares a spot on the Sunday Night Football broadcast with Dungy, said later in the show. "Because you do not seem like you are giving your opponent the respect that it deserves when you are sitting back and you are thinking about the Patriots three weeks from now."

"Let me clue you in on something," Dungy replied. "When I was coaching, no matter who we played, I was always thinking about you [the Patriots] so that doesn’t surprise me that Mike Tomlin would be. I do not think this team is going to overlook [the Packers] at all."

We know there are certain individuals in the Patriots organization who look ahead to opponents other than the ones up immediately on the schedule. They have to be. That's advanced scouting. That's being prepared. The idea that the Patriots have a franchise-wide laser focus on the next game is not based in reality.

But the public message and the message to the team is consistently consistent. On to Cincinnati. Or, as is the case this week, on to Buffalo. 

Look at how Belichick replied to an innocuous question during his Monday conference call about how he and the Patriots secured a record 17-consecutive winning seasons by beating the Dolphins over the weekend.

"That’s what we’re here for is to win games," Belichick said. "Yeah, we take a lot of pride in it. But, that being said, there’s probably another time to talk about that and reflect back on it and so forth. You know, none of those other -- however many seasons it was or however many games it was -- really makes any difference this week. I mean, nobody cares about that. This is just strictly a matchup between the Patriots and the Bills in 2017, and how these two teams compete against each other is really what it’s all about. So, I don’t think living in the past is going to help us, and I don’t think living in the future is going to help us, either."

Embracing the elephant in the room is all well and good. (Again, it's fantastic from a media perspective. More embracing of large mammals, please.) 

But living in the future very nearly got Tomlin's Steelers stomped by one of the worst teams in football.

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A first for Bill Belichick: Patriots lose initial pass interference challenge

A first for Bill Belichick: Patriots lose initial pass interference challenge

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick did something on Sunday against the Chiefs that he hasn't done all season. He challenged a pass interference non-call.

With 3:07 left in the third quarter, Patrick Mahomes hit Sammy Watkins on a five-yard pass that was marked at the Chiefs 40-yard line, giving Kansas City a first down. Belichick challenged the spot, which appeared to be generous, but he challenged the ruling that tight end Travis Kelce did not interfere with Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore.

The overall percentages of that offensive pass interference ruling being overturned were low based on how that play has been officiated this season. Through the first six weeks of the season, only four of 37 (10.8 percent) pass interference challenges were successful. From Week 4 through Week 10, seven weeks of games, coaches lost 32 of 33 pass interference challenges.

Twenty of 87 defensive pass interference calls have been reversed, competition committee chair Rich McKay said at this week's league meetings. That's 23 percent. Overall, there have been 345 replay reviews through Week 14 and "about 47 percent" have been reversed, according to McKay.

Belichick acknowledged in mid-October that it was very difficult to successfully challenge pass interference, which was why he hadn't.

“I think it’s been pretty clear and the league has come out and said, it has to be clear and obvious,” Belichick told WEEI at the time. “What the definition of that is, I’m not sure. But I don’t think there can be much gray area, or it’s not clear and obvious. I haven’t studied all of them, but a lot of the ones that I’ve observed or have been in our games, I can see why they were called the way they were.”

But the fact that Belichick challenged a pass-interference ruling against the Chiefs last weekend signified that he and his staff had been paying attention to recent trends. Through Week 11, only six defensive pass interference penalties were reversed upon review. In the last three weeks, seven defensive pass interference calls have been reversed.

Belichick's challenge for offensive pass interference failed last weekend. He was granted neither the penalty nor the spot against the Chiefs, which came into play later when a N'Keal Harry would-be touchdown could not be reviewed because Belichick was out of challenges after having lost one.

"We challenged both aspects of the play — it’s one challenge, it’s one play," Belichick said. "We challenged the offensive interference and we challenged the spot. It’s exactly what you said it was. When we challenged it, I thought we had a good challenge on both counts."

Perhaps Belichick challenged the non-call for offensive pass interference because . . . why not? If he wanted to challenge the spot, might as well challenge pass interference as well. It's one challenge for two aspects of the play.

But given recent trends, Belichick might've thought he had a good chance of winning the offensive pass interference challenge. That he didn't — even after officials have apparently changed their approach to pass interference reviews — might only further cloud what qualifies as flag-worthy.

There will be three more weeks of information on these calls headed into the postseason, but odds are everyone involved — coaches, players, the league office — would like a little more clarity before the calendar flips to January. Either way, thanks in part to all the confusion this season, there could be marked changes to the review setup for 2020.

“There’s no question there’s been angst,” said McKay, who is president of the Falcons. “I’ve felt the angst. I felt the angst with our team, feel the angst of others. But it’s a new rule. It’s a big change. It’s something we haven’t done before. So I don’t want to prejudge what the outcome could be."

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Preventable Patriots controversy is the last thing Bill Belichick needed

Preventable Patriots controversy is the last thing Bill Belichick needed

The Patriots locker room was choked with media Wednesday afternoon. We mostly milled in small crowds of three or four with nothing to do but chat until a player stopped long enough to signal a willingness to chat. 

Then, like ants on a dropped popsicle stick, we’d swarm. Inevitably, a question about what happened in the Cleveland press box last Sunday would be lobbed up. The answer would be some variation of, “Not my department,” accompanied by a shrug. 

Away from the throngs, I buttonholed two different Patriots starters. 

I asked how much the swirl caused by an independent contractor for Kraft Sports Entertainment shooting video of the Bengals sideline from the Browns press box was impacting the team.

“F--- that shit,” said one. “I’m thinking about playing good on Sunday. I’m thinking about the Bengals. I have enough to think about. Not a concern.”

The other just shook his head and offered a pitying smile as if to say, “You don’t really think that’s on our plate, do you?” 

It wasn’t technically Bill Belichick’s department either, but it has very much been on his plate all week. 

If any of the 31 other franchises made headlines for doing what the Patriots did Sunday, the general reaction would likely be along the lines of, “Wow. That seems boldly stupid given the nuclear fallout from the Patriots sideline filming in 2007.”

For the Patriots to do it, given the nuclear fallout from their sideline filming in 2007? 

It was like an SNL skit. It couldn’t be real. 

Not surprisingly, Belichick is beside himself about it for a couple of reasons. 

First, he tolerates the intrusion of Kraft Sports Entertainment because he grudgingly understands that promoting the brand is important to the owner. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of anything he’s doing with, you know, the actual football team, he’ll scowl but bear it. 

But spending time entertaining questions about what he knew and when he knew it in the wake of a second consecutive loss to an AFC division leader? Those are brain cells suddenly occupied by something that not only has nothing to do with football, but which puts him in an awful light. 

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And that’s the second reason Belichick is so angry. He understands that a huge swath of football-watching fans and commentators stand at the ready, waiting for a chance to dredge up SpyGate, the jaywalking offense that was prosecuted like a felony assault on professional football. It’s the second time in five years Belichick’s had to stand up and say, “I know nothing…” about some alleged impropriety and he knows the response from too many will be, “Sure you don’t…” 

At 66, he’s a living coaching legend. His involvement and enthusiasm in the NFL’s Top 100 Players production feels like an embrace of that. It’s obvious he’s flattered by it and he was willing to share the best side of himself in each episode. 

But this very preventable controversy in which he had no part means a dredging up of past sins, both real and imagined. Stern words from Roger Goodell about a “thorough investigation” and the inevitable penalty — whatever it is — is a scratch on a legacy that won’t be buffed out for those that want to fixate on them because they don’t like the man. 

So of course he’s livid, furious, and any other adjective you’d like to use that’s a synonym for monumentally pissed off. 

You can blame the Kraft Sports Entertainment personnel in Cleveland last Sunday for bad judgment in that instance. 

But you can’t blame ownership for trying to promote and advance its brand, which is what the “Do Your Job” videos do. With a salary cap near $200 million projected for 2020, every team needs to exhaust its revenue streams. Mini-docs on the inner workings of the famously clandestine Patriots are a layup idea. The execution on this one was … off.

How will the NFL react? It’s probably a boon for the Patriots that NFL owners were meeting this week in Dallas. That allowed Robert Kraft to explain directly to Goodell and fellow owners what precisely happened face-to-face. Maybe that minimizes the number of teams who ring up Goodell to demand the full weight of discipline land on the Patriots regardless of the details. 

The NFL doesn’t need this issue hijacking its season. The Patriots have already been in the headlines enough for off-field drama this offseason between Kraft’s incident in West Palm Beach and the Antonio Brown saga. 

The league as a whole would be best served if its investigation is quick and transparent. A reasonable punishment that hits the team with a fine and leaves football out of it would be the best way to tie it off tidily. 

But there’s no guarantee personalities involved at the league level aside from Goodell — league counsel and Patriots antagonist counsel Jeff Pash, for instance — could be looking for another pound of flesh from the Patriots' hide. 

Confiscating some of Belichick’s precious draft picks would surely make the coach apoplectic especially since it’s the business arm of the organization that did the deed. And while some of his ire would be directed at the league, most of it would probably be directed in-house. 

So there’s a lot of tiptoeing past the coach’s office going on right now. 

MORE CURRAN: Week 15 AFC Power Rankings>>>>>

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