FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick tends to be a bit more verbose in his Friday news conferences than he is during his other media obligations, and that certainly was the case again this week.
Before offering interesting takes on Jimmy Garoppolo, Cyrus Jones, advanced statistics and “swagger,” the New England Patriots coach went deep on the logistical difficulties traveling cross-country and playing in an unfamiliar stadium can pose for a team.
The Patriots will be doing both this weekend when they take on the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium, a venue at which they have never played.
“Of course, if you haven’t been there, there is a newness to it,” Belichick said. “But even if you have been there at most you’re probably playing in that stadium once a year. So just refamiliarizing yourself with the conditions, the sun, the lights, the scoreboard, the 40-second clock.
“I would say in most of these stadiums, the way they’re built, there’s a difference in the wind between in the end zone where it’s more protected and out at midfield, and usually the flags are no indicator of anything other than it’s the opposite of whatever they are. The turf, the footing, the consistency of that, if cleats are an issue. (If) it’s a turf field then obviously it’s not the case, but if it’s not then what are the conditions?
“Cleveland’s surface versus, let’s just say Arizona’s surface — I mean, they couldn’t be more different. Each game is different, so even if you’ve been in the stadium before, if it’s a day game, if it’s a night game, whatever the wind is, whatever the sun is, it’s different for that day. I think fundamentally, you just always want to go through that process and re-acclimate yourself to the specific conditions for that particular game.”
The natural grass surface at Levi’s Stadium, which opened in 2014, is widely considered one of the worst in the NFL. Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib called the Niners’ field “terrible” after playing on it in Super Bowl 50.
— The Patriots will catch a flight to the Bay Area on Friday afternoon, and it remains to be seen whether tight end Rob Gronkowski will join them. Gronkowski suffered a chest injury during last Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and he did not practice this week, making it highly unlikely he will suit up against the 49ers.
“I think (the travel) could have a lot to do with it,” Belichick said. “It would depend on what the player’s individual situation was. It’s certainly a lot different than being at home, where you could literally wait until an hour-and-a-half before the game and make your decision on the player. I don’t think there’s a lot of downside.
“We’ve certainly had discussions in the past if the player has, whatever his particular condition is, if we think it’s probably less than 50-50 that he would be able to play. Again, if we were playing at home, it would be a bit of a different situation.
“If we feel like it’s probably a long shot if you will, then do we really want to put him on the plane for five hours? Do we really think that after all that the swelling is going to down or that the whatever is going to loosen up or whatever the case, whatever the nature of the condition is, is really going to improve? Is that the best thing to do, or the right thing to do?
“And could it set us back, and now we come back after the game, let’s say the player either does or doesn’t play, and then here we are on Monday and we’re further behind than we were on Friday. Yeah, I think that’s a legitimate conversation.”
Gronkowski sat out the Patriots’ first two games with a hamstring injury, then was limited in the next two as he worked his way back to full health. He has been a force since quarterback Tom Brady returned from suspension in Week 5, catching 24 passes for 529 yards and three touchdowns over New England’s last five games.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images