x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Patriots are going the Belichick way

The Patriots's success over the decade is down to their coach's unconventional approach.

With an eye for detail, Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach, has always challenged conventional wisdom.
With an eye for detail, Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach, has always challenged conventional wisdom.

Bill Belichick strode through the crowded locker room, his head down, his arms swinging. His face was set with the serious look of a man on a mission, and the New England Patriots coach ignored the players and reporters around him.

Rodney Harrison has seen that determination countless times.

"His motto is 'Listen fellas, I'm going to do everything I can to make this team better, so whatever decision I make, it's not about you. It's not about me. It's about the team'," New England's former star safety said. "You can do nothing but respect that."

It is the Belichick way.

It is the Patriots way.

And it has worked for a decade, from the Super Bowl championship in the 2001 campaign to the best record in the NFL this season.

The approach has many parts - focus on team over individual success, prepare thoroughly, shut out distractions, build team depth and look no further than the next game.

It has one goal - winning.

"When you embody the Patriots spirit, it's guys that aren't worried about who gets the recognition," said Harrison, now an analyst on NBC. "If you win football games, everybody looks good.

"The other thing about the Patriots way is preparation. When you prepare everyone, it creates depth and it begins to build confidence in guys who accept their roles."

Belichick's players prepare exhaustively, even for games like today's regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins that means nothing in the standings.

The Patriots (13-2) already have homefield advantage through the play-offs. Few situations arise in games that the players have not seen in practice. No detail is too small. After all, it might save a game that can lead to a title, so Belichick springs questions on players during meetings.

"I can remember my first week being here," said Rob Ninkovich, a linebacker who joined the Patriots as a free agent before last season. "I was sitting there before the Buffalo game and he's like: 'Rob, could you name all their tight ends and their strengths and weaknesses?'"

The newcomer was speechless. So he opened his book to look it up. "He was like: 'Close your book,'" Ninkovich said. "And then he came up to me and said: 'Hey, you've got to know their shoe size by the time you play them, so take this as a lesson.'"

Belichick challenges conventional wisdom. He traded Richard Seymour, his star defensive end, before last season then dealt Randy Moss, the wide receiver, after the fourth game this season. He is stocked up on new players, 24 in their first year with the Patriots, including eight veteran free agents and three rookie free agents.

"He's a great evaluator of talent and he's a great evaluator of people," Harrison said. "He talks to you. He understands after meeting you whether you're the type of guy that fits in his system, and he'll let you know."

Moss did fit in very well in 2007, his first season with the Patriots. He caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes and finished with 98 catches for 1,493 yards. The next two years he totalled 152 receptions and 24 touchdowns. But this year his production fell and he complained about his contract situation - diverting the spotlight from the Patriots win in the opener by saying he did not think they would bring him back next year.

Three weeks later he was traded to Minnesota and later to Tennessee, but he still praises Belichick as the best football coach he has ever seen.

"He tries to eliminate a lot of nonsense, and the nonsense is the off-the-field distractions, straight tunnel vision," Moss said. "You can respect that a lot in a coach. I have the utmost respect for him, and I think he's the greatest coach."

In many ways, the players resemble their coach.

They spend extra time studying film, focusing on their next task and speak cautiously with reporters, careful not to reveal information on injuries or game plans.

Asked if the team has taken on Belichick's personality, Danny Woodhead, the running back, said, "We trust our coach and we're just taking it one day at a time and that's what we've got to do. That's what we've tried to do the whole season and that's what we're going to continue to do."

But Woodhead and his teammates know they can still improve.

"We got better yesterday. We got better on Wednesday. We're going to have a better team this Sunday," Tom Brady, the quarterback, said. "[That] really has been a trademark of this team."