HOUSTON — Super Bowl LII is Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis, and Bill Belichick already is behind schedule for his goal of being on the sideline at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Not that the Patriots coach is complaining. He’s still basking in the glow of his victory in Super Bowl LI. The remarkable comeback to a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday night was his fifth championship as New England’s head coach and his seventh overall.
Asked when he’d be changing the name of his boat to “VII Rings,” Belichick said with a wide smile, “Working on that right now. That is one of the highlights, for sure.’’
Unfortunately for Belichick, he won’t be spending much time on the seas for a while, as work now begins in earnest for next season. It’s work that 30 other teams across the NFL are already knee-deep into.
Late spring and early summer will be the time for the coach to get back out on the water.
“The NFL season, the calendar is what it is,’’ Belichick said Monday morning as he stood by a shiny yet fingerprint-smudged Vince Lombardi Trophy. “As of today, and as great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season.’’
Belichick has had staffers getting a head start on the preparations.
“Fortunately we have a great personnel staff in Nick Caserio, Monti Ossenfort, and Dave Ziegler — those guys do a great job,’’ said Belichick. “Looking at the whole league, you’re looking at the combine, obviously the draft, the all-star games have already occurred. Another month and we’re into free agency, not to mention all of the internal Patriots players that have contracts up.’’
New England does have a boatload of players whose deals are expiring, including some defensive stalwarts. Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Alan Branch, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long are among them.
“We’re going to have to work with them in some form or fashion, like every team does,’’ said the coach. “Now is not really the time to [take off]. If you don’t do a good job on your football team in February, March, and April, you’re probably going to see that in November, December, and January.
“The down time for us is really from the end of OTAs in mid June and the start of training camp in July. I’ll be on VII Rings at some point during that time.’’
That break will be just a temporary one for Belichick, who just put a perfect wrap on his 42nd season in the NFL (“You don’t have to keep reminding me,’’ he quipped). The coach has no plans on slowing down anytime soon.
“My thoughts are just my commitment to the team and again this organization, what Mr. Kraft did, has done for me, what a great partner he’s been,’’ he said. “I just want to do the best that I can for the great players and the coaches that I’ve had the privilege to work with, and I’m really not thinking about last year, next year, some other year. Just trying to live in the moment and do the best I can for our football team.’’
Part of that task is balancing what needs to be improved on from this season (not much) with laying the foundation for the next one.
“This is a great year for us,” said Belichick. “We’re going to be in business next year, we’re going to have a schedule next year, we’re going to play that, so we have to look ahead and prepare for that.
“But for right now, and up until a few hours ago, I put every ounce of energy I had into doing the best I could for this football team in 2016. We’ll worry about next year next year.’’
Belichick has talked often about the toughness his team showed throughout the season. And not just the physical toughness that all football players need. The coach has been particularly impressed by the group’s mental toughness.
It was a team that was without its starting quarterback for the first four games, traded a Pro Bowl linebacker in midseason, and lost its top receiving target down the stretch. Yet they answered every challenge and in some instances got better.
That mental toughness was tested again Sunday night when they faced a 21-3 halftime deficit that grew to 28-3 in the third quarter before their furious comeback. On Monday, Belichick confirmed that Harmon’s “positive energy permeated throughout the team” at halftime. Harmon wasn’t alone in his belief that the deficit could be overcome.
“I thought we responded to a lot of challenges throughout the course of the year,” said Belichick. “And I couldn’t be prouder of this group of guys. It’s really an honor and a privilege for me to coach these guys.
“They’ve got a tremendous work ethic, tremendous physical and mental toughness. They just compete and just don’t stop competing, and we saw that last night. What everybody saw last night in the fourth quarter and overtime from the New England Patriots is what I’ve been seeing for almost seven months.’’
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.