FOXBOROUGH — Season’s greetings.
That’s how Bill Belichick saw his heated sideline exchange with Vikings receiver Adam Thielen during the fourth quarter of New England’s 24-10 win on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“Yeah, pretty much,’’ the coach said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Thielen believed Patrick Chung’s injury on a play wasn’t legitimate and that the Patriots safety may have been buying time for his coach to decide to whether to challenge Latavius Murray’s fourth-and-1 run.
Thielen shouted at the Patriots sideline and Belichick responded.
“I just thought the play was cheap. I wasn’t directing it toward [Belichick], I just thought the play was cheap,’’ said Thielen. “I let the emotions get the best of me because it’s a smart football play if you are in that situation, why not? It’s not cheating because there’s no rule against it from a guy going down, and I don’t know if he was hurt or not. He might’ve been hurt, that’s fine, it is what it is, but like I said, just interesting timing for a guy to go down when it’s a close play.’’
Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy also joined the discussion and he said his message to Thielen was to just get back in the huddle and play.
Belichick did challenge the ruling and it was upheld — making him 0 for 2 on challenges for the day. New England’s defense, perhaps fired up by its coach, eventually stopped the Vikings’ drive on downs.
“I thought the coolest thing was [Van Noy] had Bill’s back right away,’’ said Jason McCourty. “He jumped in Thielen’s face, but I love when we get in games like this, it’s going back and forth. I’ve talked to Thielen a bunch of times off the field, great guy, but everybody’s out there battling and it’s all about, sometimes football comes down to a yard and we’re out there on fourth and 1 fighting for a yard. Obviously as a defense we all thought that was a fourth-down stop, but it is what it is, but Bill’s fiery. We see it every day, so I think it’s probably a lot cooler for you guys to see it.’’
No end in sight
Does Belichick have 10 more years of coaching left in his tank?
“Just trying to win a game,” Belichick told “Fox NFL Sunday” analyst Jimmy Johnson in a brief segment that aired leading up to the game.
More than halfway through his 19th season as head coach in New England, Belichick said what spurs the desire to prolong his career is nothing more than love for the sport and the profession. The 66-year-old wouldn’t hint at a potential retirement age, as his focus remains on the season at hand.
Belichick said the Patriots’ record “could be better” and “could be worse,” though he placed greater emphasis on the games to come. In 2015 — a year Belichick said “wasn’t very good” — New England opened with a 10-game winning streak, before dropping four of its last six regular-season games and exiting the playoffs in the AFC Championship game. In 2001, however, the Patriots won the franchise’s first Super Bowl title after starting 5-5.
“It’ll all come down to how we do in the next five weeks and maybe beyond that,” Belichick said. “Hopefully, we can play our best football going forward.”
As for what the future holds after Belichick retires? Don’t expect him to follow in Johnson’s footsteps as a broadcaster.
“There’s no way,” Belichick said.
Danny Shelton was a mildly surprising inactive choice for the Patriots. The defensive tackle had played in New England’s first 11 games, but his snaps had declined recently and he was on the field for just nine plays in last week’s win over the Jets.
The Vikings have a pass-heavy offense, so the decision to sit Shelton was probably more rooted in the game plan than any performance issues.
The other inactives for the Patriots were rookie cornerbacks Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen; defensive ends Keionta Davis and Derek Rivers; offensive lineman James Ferentz; and tight end Dwayne Allen.
For the Vikings, cornerback Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) and receiver Stefon Diggs (knee) were active after being questionable all week in practice.
Minnesota’s inactives included quarterback Kyle Sloter; receiver Chad Beebe; running back Mike Boone; tight end David Morgan; center Brett Jones; linebacker Devante Downs; and defensive tackle Jalyn Holmes.
Cordarrelle Patterson spent time catching up with Thielen before the game. The receivers were roommates when Patterson played in Minnesota . . . Because the Vikings challenged Rob Gronkowski’s apparent first-down catch late in the first half (it was reversed) there were actually a pair of two-minute warnings in the first half . . . There was a moment of silence prior to “The Star-Spangled Banner” in honor of President George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday, and for Fall River’s Eric Emond, a US Army Special Forces member who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan last week.