New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took on a different tone Monday in one of his five weekly video conference calls.
He sat slouched back, swiveling in his office chair the day after his team fell to 2-5 following at 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He seemed resigned, maybe a little down, less feisty. He was more open than usual, offering that outside linebacker Chase Winovich would play moving forward after receiving just five snaps in Week 8. He acknowledged that defensive tackle Beau Allen won’t play this season and will stay on injured reserve.
Later on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni & Fauria,” Belichick went deeper into comments he made last week on SiriusXM NFL Radio about how the salary cap has hurt his team’s depth, fighting back when accused by former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria of making excuses.
“I didn’t say this was an excuse,” Belichick said. “I never said that. … I mean, look, we paid Cam Newton $1 million. It’s obvious that we didn’t have any money. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s what we did the last five years. We sold out and won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth and played in an AFC Championship Game.
“This year, we had less to work with. It’s not an excuse. It’s just a fact.”
First, no one rarely prefaces an excuse by saying, “This is an excuse.”
The biggest question is how Belichick’s statement resonates with members of the 2020 Patriots as they have nine more games to play. If the Patriots “sold out” for Super Bowls and “had less to work with” this season, then where does that leave this team that’s three games out of the loss column to the Bills in the AFC East?
If the 2020 Patriots are realistic, then they know that their chances of making the playoffs or competing for a Super Bowl are slim. But Belichick isn’t usually one to be a wet blanket and acknowledge that.
Then again, Belichick also isn’t usually one to make excuses. If Belichick isn’t using the salary cap as an “excuse” then he is using it as a justification, explanation or defense. And Belichick doesn’t typically do that either. But he similarly explained away some of the Patriots’ issues after their Week 6 loss to the Denver Broncos by pointing out their lack of practice time after COVID-19 swept through the team’s locker room.
Belichick has won eight Super Bowls — six with the Patriots. He doesn’t really owe anyone an explanation for his team’s struggles. They’ve come up short three times on attempted fourth-quarter comebacks in one-score games. They had eight players opt out in August and no one left on the market to replace them. They lost their superstar quarterback in free agency, and the superstar they signed to replace him hasn’t played up to expectations. They’re smart to carry over as much cap space as possible. The Patriots have definitely failed to fill out their roster through the draft, but there are also many other elements in play when it comes to the team’s struggles this season.
But it does feel like Belichick wouldn’t be this open and honest if he still felt his team had a shot to make the postseason this year. Belichick usually uses the media to relay a message to his team.
What’s the message if it’s not, “Well, maybe we’ll tool up for next season?”
We’ve got a long way left to go before the 2020 season is over. How else will Belichick open up and spill the beans by January? Now might be a good time to ask him why he benched Malcolm Butler.