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Belichick praises Mariota

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 06: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans dives for the end zone to score a touchdown during the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on January 6, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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When it comes to heaping praise on opponents, Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t quite as bad as Lou Holtz used to be, but Belichick definitely isn’t afraid to ensure that nothing he says will motivate those he’ll be facing to prepare and to try harder.

The goal in heaping praise also could be to get his own players to prepare and to try harder. Given his team’s periodic struggles against quarterbacks who can make things happen both with their arms and their legs, that could be a good thing.

“They give him quite a bit of responsibility,” Belichick told reporters on Monday regarding Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. “He can, obviously, handle it well. He did a very good job running the no-huddle offense and making plays and adjustments at the line of scrimmage against Kansas City. If he sees a situation in the passing game that he doesn’t like he’s very strong and athletic enough to extend plays, whether that’s to buy time for the receivers to get open, throw on the run or in some cases advance the ball himself. He can do all of those things and he does a good job with the decision-making process as those situations occur. That goes in the red area, third down and out in the field. He’s a smart player that has good judgment, makes good decisions.”

Belichick and the Patriots have limited experience against Mariota. He faced New England late in his rookie year, but he suffered an injury and didn’t return after throwing only six passes in the game, completing three.

“I don’t really think the game from two years ago is that relevant,” Belichick said. “All players improve a lot over that period of time, especially young ones at that point in their career, certainly at that positon. Mariota’s had a good year. They really have been in the playoffs here the last couple of weeks. They had to win their last regular season game. He brought them from behind 21-3 against Kansas City in Kansas City for a playoff win. I think his performance speaks for itself. I don’t think what happened two years ago really has any bearing at all, whatsoever, on this game. I couldn’t find any relevance to it.”

In that game from December 20, 2015, the score at the time Mariota left also was 21-3. The fact that he was able to lead his team back from that same deficit against the team that beat New England in Week One is impressive, and it’s reason enough for the Patriots to take Mariota very seriously -- 13.5-point betting line notwithstanding.