Lane Johnson made his feelings about Bill Belichick’s coaching methods clear long ago, decrying what he believed to be a “fear-based organization” in which players were basically barred from having fun. So Johnson’s Sunday night tweet promising “fun at the Linc in two weeks,” was about more than a simple Week 11 matchup between two playoff-hopeful teams. Johnson was poking the resident New England bear, still solid in the memory of the Eagles’ upset win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl in February 2018.
But Johnson did get something right — there is no version of Belichick more fun than the one we will see a week from Sunday in Philly (though maybe not that fun for the Eagles). Coming off his team’s first loss and coming out of the bye gives Belichick extra time to do what he does best, to do what he does better than anyone in the NFL, to coach this team up. Count me among those who can’t wait to see what he comes up with. Like a scientist back to his lab, he’s determined to find some answers for what went wrong last Sunday night in Baltimore.
Maybe you thought the terse answers Belichick spit out after that wipeout in Baltimore were merely examples of him being rude or dismissive. Maybe you felt the same about his nonspecific explanations of what went wrong during a next-day conference call. I disagree. There have been far worse postgame or other interview experiences with the 67-year-old head coach (last year’s late-night mumblings in Detroit come immediately to mind).
Belichick might not have had much to say after last Sunday’s game, but you could all but see the wheels turning in his head.
“I think I covered this, but all the way across the board in all three phases of the game — offense, defense, special teams — certainly the coaching and the playing and fundamentals all could be and need to be better,” he said. “So, that goes for every position, every player, every coach. We’ve just got to do a better job. I don’t know how else to put that except that’s the truth.”
Give the coach credit for consistency. Belichick was asked 15 questions on his Monday call (including follow-ups) and used the word “better” 11 times in his responses.
On struggling to contain the Ravens’ side-to-side running: “It was a combination of things. They’re a good running team. We’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play better, we just have to do a better job all the way around.”
On apparent defensive adjustments he made in the second half: “We had our moments, but in the end, they did more than we did. We just have to do a better job. It’s not any one thing or any one play or player or scheme or anything. We just have to coach better and have to play better.”
On avoiding costly penalties such as the one that turned a potential Ravens field goal into a touchdown: “That’s what we need to coach and execute the plays better.”
On whether Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was different than he appeared on film: “Obviously, there’s a lot of things we could do better based on last night’s game, so you learn something every week.”
On not parsing credit or blame on specific player groups: “When you look at it collectively, there are things we could have done better in every area that would have helped us.”
You know what players hear when Belichick includes himself and his coaches in all of those answers? Accountability. You know what they don’t hear when he doesn’t publicly back his own play calls over the way the players executed them? Blame.
What Belichick was doing last Sunday — throwing a blanket of responsibility over everyone involved in that game, himself, his coaching staff, and the players — revealed yet again why he has lasted so long at the top of this game. There’s nothing he asks of those around him that he doesn’t ask of himself.
And you know he’s asking plenty across these next 10 days.
Chris Long, the one-year Super Bowl-winning Patriot who won a second straight title by joining the Eagles for their win two years ago, told “The Ryen Rusillo Podcast” recently what it’s like to be around Belichick after a loss.
“It’s just straight up,” Long said. “That’s what you miss a lot in pro football. You want your head coach to get up there and call it how it is and do it in front of the entire team. No favorites. Don’t sugarcoat it. And that’s what’s done. In a room full of everybody that’s relevant in that building from a football standpoint. Your mistakes are up there on the big screen for everybody to see and they’re addressed head-on. That can be ugly, but it needs to happen.”
In other words, what Belichick chooses not to break down for the media does get aired out in the building. The Belichick we saw and heard after the Ravens game is the one who you know can’t wait to get back to work, to figure out what went wrong, and go about fixing it. Like a scientist in a football lab.
“The great thing about Bill — well, there are many great things, he’s going to go down as the greatest football coach in history, he already is — but he’s not going to overvalue or undervalue whatever is going on. He’s not a prisoner of the moment; he sees the big picture,” said CBS analyst Phil Simms. “Let’s just keep working towards something, keep piecing it together, and that comes through when it counts, when it’s close to seeding for the playoffs and playoff time. That’s what it’s all about. Let’s keep moving forward.”
Sounds like fun.