FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick wouldn’t discuss the future — his, Tom Brady’s or the New England Patriots’ — when he stepped to the podium Sunday morning, less than 12 hours after the Tennessee Titans bounced his team from the NFL playoffs.
But he did share his thoughts on the season that was, expressing his appreciation for the 2019 Patriots and lamenting what could have been following New England’s earliest postseason exit since 2009.
“As I said (Saturday) night, I have a ton of respect for this football team — players and coaches,” Belichick said, echoing comments he made after the Patriots’ 20-13 wild-card round loss to the Titans at Gillette Stadium. “We all put a lot into it this week. We put everything we had into it. I thought we got a lot of great leadership from a lot of players, certainly our captains. I thought they, in particular, played extremely hard (Saturday) night, as the entire team did.
“Unfortunately, we came up basically a point short. Nobody feels very good about that — nor should they — because that’s the type of competitive team that we have. I’m proud of the way these guys worked and competed all year. I wish we could have done a little bit more, but that’s life in the NFL. That’s really about it. …
“It’s always a tough ending to the year, but we lost to a team that was a little better than us (Saturday) night.”
The Patriots went a perfect 8-0 during the first half of the season but just 4-5 down the stretch, including losses in three of their final four home games. Of their five defeats, only the first — a 37-20 decision against a Baltimore Ravens team that would go on to finish with the NFL’s best record — was decided by more than eight points.
“In all three phases of the game, there were times when things were good, and there were other times where they were average, and there were other times where they weren’t so good,” Belichick said. “So there were a lot of things that we’d like to improve on. You can say that in pretty much every year. Several very, very close games — games that came down to the last or next-to-last possession — in our season, especially the games that we lost — the Baltimore game. A play here, play there; call here, call there; decision here, decision there, and things might look a little different. But they didn’t, and that’s what it is.”
New England’s defense led the NFL in points and yards allowed during the regular season and surrendered just 14 to the Titans despite a dominant 182-yard effort by NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry. Tennessee’s only score after halftime came in the form of a Logan Ryan pick-six with less than 10 seconds remaining.
That defense couldn’t carry one of the worst offenses of the Belichick/Tom Brady era, however. The Patriots scored 25 points just once over their final nine games — thumping of a one-win Cincinnati Bengals team 34-13 — and managed just one touchdown Saturday night.
The Patriots failed to score on three consecutive goal-line rushes late in the first half against Tennessee, then punted on each of their first four second-half possessions before Ryan’s game-sealing interception. Brady, playing in what might have been his final game in a Patriots uniform, went just 7-for-21 for 68 yards and no touchdowns when targeting wide receivers in the loss.
Mohamed Sanu, acquired for a second-round pick before the trade deadline, caught one pass on five targets. First-round draft pick N’Keal Harry finished with two catches on seven targets. Phillip Dorsett had one grab on four throws.
Julian Edelman, by far the Patriots’ most consistent weapon during the regular season, scored on a jet sweep but caught just three passes on five targets for 30 yards and dropped a would-be first down that helped kill New England’s penultimate possession.
With injuries piling and defenses keying on him, Edelman tallied just 13 receptions over the Patriots’ final four games, and the offense’s secondary options couldn’t make up the difference.
Belichick was asked Sunday whether he regrets not doing more to bolster the offense around his 42-year-old quarterback. After pausing, the head coach replied:
“The team was constructed very competitively. I think that was reflected in our overall play during the course of the year. Again, we lost four games that basically came down to the last possession, other than the Baltimore game, which, that was a pretty competitive game, too. So I think there’s areas in every phase of the game — offense, defense, special teams, running game, passing game, pass rush — wherever you want to go. Coaching, strategy, game-planning, decision-making — I mean, all of us. Had a couple things been a little different, maybe the outcome would have been a little different.
“I think we all had a part in the wins, we all had a part shared in the losses, and we’ve got to try to do better in all those areas — each of us that are part of the game going forward. And each of us did that over the course of the year. So I wouldn’t expect that to be any different.”
Belichick was able to find one silver lining from the playoff loss — the Patriots’ first before the AFC Championship Game since the 2010 season: He now has four additional weeks to prepare for the 2020 campaign.
“Unfortunately — or fortunately; however you want to look at it — relative to the 2020 team, we have more time, and we’ll try to use that time as productively as we can,” Belichick said. “So we’ll sit back, take a look at what the priorities are, what we can try to accomplish and then make the most efficient use of this time that we can. Has all that been laid out yet? Absolutely not. But that will be one of the first orders of business.”