Bill Belichick likes the fight and resiliency his team has shown as it prepares to complete the NFL’s first 17-game regular season.
Despite having a rookie quarterback and a ton of new faces in just about every position group, the Patriots earned a playoff spot, riding a seven-game winning streak to a 10-6 record. The top seed in the AFC and an AFC East crown are still possible, though not entirely in their control any longer.
“The team has a good work ethic and they’ve been competitive,” the coach said Friday when asked about the traits he’s seen this group display. “We’ve, unfortunately, started a lot of games slowly. Some, we’ve started well. Others, we’ve started slowly. We’ve fallen behind.
“For the most part, we’ve put ourselves in position to be competitive and have a chance to win at the end of the game. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is to start as slowly as we have at times, but I’d say, from a competitive standpoint, we’ve answered the bell in every round.
“It hasn’t always been good, but it’s always been competitive.’’
He said through the ups (the seven-game run) and downs (the 2-4 start), everyone stayed positive, and that includes the coaching staff.
“We’ve had our moments where we’ve felt good about the coaching,” he said. “There’ve been moments where it’s hard to feel good about it, but through it all, keep persevering, keep grinding, keep getting better.
“We have improved a lot. We’re a much better team than we were at other points in the season. Even though I thought we had a good training camp, we didn’t perform well in the early part of the season in any area.
“A lot of that’s improved. I think we’re in a competitive situation. We’ll see what happens going forward. Hopefully, we can play our best football in the coming weeks.”
Dugger is ruled out
Safety Kyle Dugger missed his third straight practice and, not surprisingly, was declared out for Sunday.
Dugger, who is dealing with a hand injury, is the club’s second-leading tackler (86), including a team-high 65 solos. He also is tied for second with four interceptions. He likely would have been charged with covering Miami tight end Mike Gesicki, who has 71 receptions on the season.
With Myles Bryant still on the reserve/COVID-19 list, it’s likely the Patriots will need to elevate one or two defensive backs from the practice squad, with D’Angelo Ross and Sean Davis the most likely candidates.
Ross has been elevated the last two weeks ahead of active roster cornerbacks Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade.
Belichick touched on Ross’s value, including an impressive series subbing for J.C. Jackson during a goal line stand against Buffalo in his season debut two weeks ago.
“D’Angelo is a really smart player,” the coach said. “On the scout team, he plays basically every position in the secondary. He has a really good understanding of what to do and techniques to do it on.
“He’s gained a lot of confidence of the coaching staff and his teammates based on his work ethic, his consistency, and dependability on a daily basis.”
Belichick said Ross’s versatility helps keep practice on schedule because of his ability to step into any situation.
“A lot of times, we get into a situation, maybe, where a player can’t practice or only practices for part of the day and we need somebody to take some reps, but you don’t want to move everybody around,” the coach said. “You go from corner to nickel. You go from safety to corner. You just put one guy in and everybody else stays the same.
“When that player returns, then everybody stays in the same spot. He does a good job of that, and as I said, a really smart player, so game-plan adjustments, even though he might not be active for the game, he knows them, he can execute them.”
Agholor is cleared
Receiver Nelson Agholor has cleared the league’s concussion protocol and was removed from the injury report. He had missed the last two games … The Patriots listed nine players as limited at the practice that was held in the field house: running back Damien Harris (hamstring); receiver Jakobi Meyers (thigh); center David Andrews (shoulder); left tackle Isaiah Wynn (hip); linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee); defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee); safety Adrian Phillips (knee); special teamer Cody Davis (wrist); and kicker Nick Folk (left knee) … There were no issues with players getting to the facility because of Friday’s early snowstorm, and Belichick noted that he built in extra commute time as “it took a half-hour to go 4 miles on Route 3. It’s part of New England, so you must just embrace it.”