FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick was in rare form on Friday. Seriously.
The coach stood at the podium speaking to the media for more than 25 minutes — he’s only required for 15 — and ended the session addressing the conglomerate like he would his team: by getting fiery talking about mental mistakes on the football field. Belichick was asked what it takes for a player, like running back Stevan Ridley, to get benched for making too many mental errors. Ridley was benched for two games after fumbling three straight weeks.
“Everybody has to understand that there’s a below-the-line level,” Belichick said. “When it’s below the line, we can’t live with it. It hurts the team. Now, we’re all going to make mistakes, and nobody makes more of them than I do. I understand that mistakes are part of the game. I’ve been in it long enough to know there’s no perfect player, no perfect game or practice — if you go out there and compete against high-level competition, that they’re going to make some plays too. But there’s a below the line, and we just can’t live with that and expect to win. That’s the bottom line. Things are going to happen that are below the line that we have to correct, but we have to stay above the line.
“It’s as simple as that. That line is drawn at every position with various criteria that apply to those players at those positions. It’s not scientific. There’s no textbook on it, on how to handle each situation. Those are decisions you have to make on a daily basis and ultimately on a weekly basis and ultimately on your decisions to keep or not keep certain players.”
Obviously that line is different for all players. Quarterback Tom Brady can throw interceptions three straight weeks and keep starting, while Ridley isn’t afforded that same luxury with his fumbles. Ridley’s not the only player who has been benched for costing the team on individual plays. Kyle Arrington, who signed a four-year, $16 million deal this offseason — so he’s obviously well respected by the organization — was benched against the Jets earlier this season for giving up too many big plays.
“I mean, everybody on the team has the same status to a certain degree, but we all know it’s not quite the same for everybody,” Belichick said. “That being said, I think that there’s a certain way to deal with different players on the team. But as far as below the line, or above the line, I don’t think there’s really too much doubt about that. Whatever the position is, if you’re playing defensive back, you can’t have the ball thrown over your head for an 80-yard touchdown. It’s not acceptable. I don’t care if the guy is a Hall of Fame player or if he’s a rookie free agent in his first practice. We can’t play like that. We can’t throw a pass into a team meeting where there’s four defenders there and try to jam the ball in there and get it picked off when they have four guys standing there. It’s unacceptable. We can’t win doing that. I don’t care who the quarterback is. It doesn’t make any difference. We can’t jump offside and false start and be in 1st-and-15s and 1st-and-5s and let them convert third downs and 3rd-and-4s because we jump offside.
“You can’t play like that. It doesn’t matter who the player is, it’s still below the line. We just can’t play like that and expect to win with those kind of mistakes. Now, is that going to happen? Yeah, it’s going to happen, sure. I understand that. But if it happens too often, we can’t play like that. And there’s going to be a new coach up here too if it happens too often. I know that too. The things that cause you to lose, you have to eliminate. Before you can win, you can’t lose.”
Belichick ended the press conference getting passionate about some of his former players who avoided mistakes and wound up having Hall of Fame careers. One of those players is the general manager of the team the Patriots are getting ready to face this weekend, the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome. Belichick was asked how a player is able to be trusted after making mental mistakes.
“Take Ozzie Newsome. There’s a good example right there,” Belichick said. “When Ozzie was a rookie — he played 13 years — when he was rookie, he fumbled, lost the ball, team lost the game. Never fumbled again the rest of his career. Never fumbled again the rest of his career — 600 and 700 [662 receptions] passes, however many passes it was, however many times he touched the ball the rest of his career, never fumbled again. Why is Ozzie Newsome in the Hall of Fame? That’s why. That kind of commitment, that kind of performance. It was important enough to him. Fumbled once, didn’t fumble again the rest of his entire career.
“Now think about that. Want to know how a guy gets in the Hall of Fame? That’s one reason. Lawrence Taylor. How many sacks did he have? How many times was he offside? Go back and look how many times he was offside. It wasn’t very many. There’s a guy that hit the quarterback, made as many plays defensively as any player in football, certainly any player I’ve ever coached but any player in football — I’d put him up against anybody in terms of big plays, hitting the quarterback, tackles beyond the line of scrimmage. I don’t care what the stats are, a lot of plays that he made, that somebody else made, but he was an impact, dynamic, as disruptive a player defensively as there’s probably ever been in the National Football League. How many times was he offside? Was he offside? Yeah, but he was a pretty disruptive player without doing that.
“I think those are examples of what I’m talking about — for all of us. We all make mistakes, even the great ones, but they don’t repeat them. They don’t make very many of them. They correct it. It’s important enough to them to move on and get it right. That’s how you do it. You get it right.”
It was the same tone Belichick has used with his players in the rare instances that the head coach allows a camera or a microphone into team meetings or out on the practice field, whether it was on NFL Network’s Bill Belichick: A Football Life or Sound FX.
Ridley has been getting back on the field after being benched against the Broncos in Week 12 and made inactive against the Texans in Week 13. The more games Ridley can string together without a fumble, the farther above that “line” the third-year running back will climb.
Click here to watch Belichick’s full 25-minute press conference.