Bill Belichick's personality doesn't lend itself to that fiery win-one-for-the-Gipper motivational speech, but to perceive that as a lack of personality or motivational skills would be off base.
It's a subject that's likely to come up as the Patriots prepare for another Super Bowl, and Belichick looks to secure his place in NFL history along with his place in the Hall of Fame -- one that would be locked up with another win if it hasn't been already. Trying to carve through his shroud of secrecy to identify the trait that has made him the most successful coach in the NFL over the last four seasons will be a tough task and one many won't even attempt in the next week-plus.
It's easier to be coy, cute and sarcastic when writing or talking about Belichick's persona, as if it's cool to degrade him for his stoicism and concealment. But it's also relatively shortsighted and lazy. He doesn't just give the media what it wants, but rather what he wants to tell it, understanding that the message he sends to the public is the same that he delivers to the players. He thinks that's part of winning, and who could argue with him at this point?
It may make a writer's job more difficult, but Belichick doesn't feel it's his job to make it easier. He doesn't play with the media charismatically, but gives the required time and goes back to work trying to find ways to win. He instructs his players not to talk about certain issues and then avoids those himself so not to be hypocritical and lose credibility in the locker room. While he is willing to make unemotional, difficult decisions when it comes to contract and salary cap issues, he is otherwise protective of his players because he understands that he needs them to buy his message and play hard for him.
Belichick is in fact a motivator and a manipulator but in more of a Tom Landry way than a Bill Parcells way. He coaches his players to understand exactly what he wants from each of them. It's a do-this-and-you-will-win approach. The players have seen it work too many times not to accept it. So when Belichick lays out the plan, his players enter the game with the confidence that the plan itself gives them an edge. Their part is simply to listen to it, study it, prepare like a professional and then execute it.
That approach by both Belichick and his players has led to a 33-4 record over the last 37 games. But part of what makes this year's Belichick's best is that he now trusts his players as much as they do him. He basically told them so before the AFC Championship Game.
"It was a long week," Belichick explained. "We came off the Colts game and started our preparation for Pittsburgh and had to re-calibrate everything. It was a totally different type of game, game plan, style of play and we were traveling at the end of the week. I was trying to pull everything together and say, 'OK look, this is what we need to do and this is how you have done it before. Here is the way we need to play the game and if we play it this way, I am confident that we will come out on top.'"
It was more than that, though. Belichick relayed to his players that he was also confident in them, which they needed to hear after a bad midweek practice that left the coach fuming.
"He's got great attention to detail and he doesn't ever really let us get away with anything," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We didn't have a great practice last Wednesday. He let us know it. You would have thought we were 0 and 16. It gets everyone in the right frame of mind. He's got a great short-term and long-term perspective. He's a tremendous coach."
Even that day, he called an impromptu and unusually timed team meeting in which the players expected to get undressed. But what he did instead was show them a video of lowlights from the first meeting with the Steelers and the in-game celebrations that were rubbed in their faces. He didn't scream at them, but he re-focused them and then believed in them to win on the road against a physical 15-1 Steelers club.
"I think this is a special group of guys," Belichick said this week. "They bring an enthusiasm to work on a daily basis and I think that carries over into the games. They really get excited about the opportunity to perform once a week after all the work and effort that is put into preparation. I have been on other good teams and other teams with players like that, but I think we have quite a few of them here -- an awful lot of them. I think that is a real credit to them that they work that hard, that they are enthusiastic and that they put so much into it."
It also is a case of follow the leader. Belichick puts so much into it, and the players see that and understand that the coach isn't asking them to do anything he doesn't do himself. They understand that he breaks down film as well as anyone in the business. They trust his words and follow his actions.
"It all starts with our leader," wideout Troy Brown said. "Coach Belichick, the offensive coordinator and the defensive coordinator come up with great plans to help us out and they teach us as much as they can. There are a lot of guys in this locker room who know a lot about football. We know the X's and O's, but it's up to us to go out and make plays."
Belichick now has the ultimate confidence that his players will do that just as they have confidence in him. And he apparently gives decent motivational speeches to. Last spring, Brown recalled Belichick's Super Bowl pregame speech and wanted to through a wall all over again. So while he may not ever be categorized with Knute Rockne, he still finds a way to push the right buttons. The winning buttons.
After returning from Pittsburgh and convening for a 4 a.m. team meeting, the Patriots were given three days off to rest their weary minds and bodies after a very physical win over the Steelers. Thursday is when they begin preparations for Super Bowl XXXIX.
"We just played the toughest game of the year," coach Bill Belichick said. "Now is the time to recover and bounce back. There was a lot of energy and a lot of work put into that game (against Pittsburgh). I think that we left it out on the field. I think it took a lot out of us, but that is the way it should be. I'm glad we left it all on the field and we are not saving it and sitting here saying, 'I feel great.' We don't want to feel good Monday. We want to put all of energy into the game and that is what they did.
"I'm sure we will be ready to go when we tee off again here. Some of the players are in working out already and that is a credit to them and really a mark of the attitude of the team that even on their days off, they come in and still maintain the workouts and their conditioning. We are getting ready for another game and some of them have already begun that process."
--The Feb. 6 Super Bowl against the Eagles will also be breakup day for Bill Belichick and his two coordinators, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Weis is headed to Notre Dame to coach the Fighting Irish while virtually all reports have Crennel headed to Cleveland to take over as the Browns head coach.
"That kind of hit me after (the Steelers) game," Belichick said. "Well, it has hit me before that. From my standpoint, and I don't want to speak for them, but I think we all pretty much all are coming from the same place. We have put a lot into this. We are in it together. We are going to work hard to finish what we started.
--The Patriots' ability to play through big injuries has been uncanny and has served as motivation. Jarvis Green nearly broke down into tears after the Colts win because he felt so disrespected by the assumption that New England could not win without Richard Seymour. The secondary has also played with a chip on its shoulder after being referred to as "patchwork" and "makeshift."
"Last year, we had a lot of injury problems, too, and we overcame that," safety Eugene Wilson said. "I don't see why this year would be any different. We have a lot of the same guys out here, and the coaches, they do a real good job getting the game plan for us. We go out and execute it."
BY THE NUMBERS: .693 -- Bill Belichick's winning percentage, including the playoffs, in five seasons as the Patriots' coach. It is 136 percentage points higher than the second most successful Patriots coach, Raymond Berry. Belichick also has a .777 winning percentage (56-16) since 2001, which ranks just ahead of Philly's Andy Reid (54-19; .740)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It means nothing if you don't go out there in a couple weeks and win. It makes no difference how impressive it is if we don't finish the job at hand." -- Rodney Harrison on the impressive way the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl with wins over Indy and Pittsburgh.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Patriots still have an open roster spot after releasing defensive back Antwan Harris early in the week. If the Patriots fill the roster spot before Super Bowl XXXIX, they will likely activate either defensive back Omare Lowe or linebacker Justin Kurpeikis off the practice squad.
Both players have spent time on the active roster this year and have been with the club most of the season. Both are capable of contributing on special teams and have been used in the kicking game during the season. With safety depth a concern and Rodney Harrison banged up, Lowe could be the favorite to earn the spot. But since the Patriots just released a defensive back in Harris, Kurpeikis could get the nod. It's difficult to imagine New England bringing a player in from the outside just more than a week before the Super Bowl. It's possible that they simply leave the spot vacant and choose their game-day 45-man roster from the 52 available players.
- DL Richard Seymour has been sidelined for almost five weeks and while he
remains questionable for next week's Super Bowl, he isn't likely to be a game-time
decision. After an extended absence, Seymour would likely have to practice
with his team in Jacksonville to warrant any playing time against the Eagles.
- S Rodney Harrison was banged up in the Steelers game and left briefly with
what appeared to be a shoulder injury, but he re-entered the game a few plays
later and remained on the field for the game's duration. He will play against
Philly. Harrison has also been a featured part of the kick coverage team,
a role he was asked to fill when the Patriots were struggling in kick coverage.
- RB Kevin Faulk will probably be asked to fill the scout team role of Philly's
Brian Westbrook because Faulk has such a similar playing style. His receiving
skills and shiftiness, while probably not quite as good as Westbrook's, closely
resemble the Eagles multi-talented threat.
- LT Matt Light played one of his better games against Pittsburgh, helping
to keep Joey Porter in check. Porter had one sack, but quarterback Tom Brady
probably held the ball too long on the play and was unable to step up in the
pocket past Porter's outside rush. Light's play has been inconsistent, but
he will obviously need to continue to play as he did Sunday against the Eagles
and rushers Hugh Douglas and Jevon Kearse.
- NT Vince Wilfork has made great strides in his rookie season and his improvement
is a big reason why New England has been able to overcome Seymour's loss during
the postseason. Last week, he was able to remain stout against Pro Bowl center
Jeff Hartings. "I saw that he was vulnerable to power," Wilfork
said. "I just wanted to get into his chest. He finally said, 'if you're
going to bull rush me every time, our running backs will cut you.' I said,
'let them cut me then.'"
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