FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s not too often that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick appears content, happy and completely pleased with his team.
It’s even more rare to see the coach in such an expressive state in the middle of the regular season.
But Belichick was almost smitten with the work his team put forth over the last week-plus with a 41-16 win in Denver followed up by Sunday afternoon’s 33-8 blowout of the Raiders in Mexico City.
In between, there was a week of practice at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on a rare, true NFL road trip.
“This has been a three-leg trip for us and we asked a lot of players, asked a lot of our organization and they all delivered. We had a great nine days. We really got better as a football team. We met all the challenges we needed to meet head on,” Belichick said.
“Our players gave a great effort [Sunday]. They came out and performed well early and throughout the game and played great situational football. Credit to the team and the entire organization, all the people planning this trip. It’s good to be going home with two wins on this trip.”
Now tied with the Steelers for the best record in the AFC at 8-2 thanks to a six-game winning streak, New England is clearly playing its best football of the season.
After a month with a lull in scoring, Tom Brady and Co. were back in the 30-plus-point mode the last couple weeks, when the quarterback completed six touchdown passes with no interceptions. Defensively, the Patriots have held opponents to 17 points or less in six straight games after allowing 33 or more in three of the first four games of the year.
To a man, players and coaches alike believe that hard work has paid off and led to game-day performances.
“It was a fiesta all over the field,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said, getting into the spirit of the big win at Estadio Azteca with a nod to both the support New England got from fans as well as the performance of the team itself.
As happy as Belichick and his players were with the latest win and winning streak, the coach reined in the positivity after reviewing the film and preparing to turn the page to Sunday’s post-Thanksgiving game against the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
“I think the players have worked extremely hard. We’ve had our moments,” Belichick said of the mid-season improvements and winning streak. “There’s still a lot of things that we need to work on and need to improve in.
“Each game gets a little more demanding because your opponent has had another week of things that you know they’ve shown and you have to work on, and so the volume builds up. Of course, our volume has built up over the last 10 weeks, too. We just have to keep grinding away week by week, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Gostkowski capitalized on opportunity
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 62-yard field goal as time expired in the first half in Mexico City, taking advantage of the thin air at 7,200 feet to best his own 58-yard Patriots franchise record that he set earlier this season. It was a kick, one of four field goals on the day, which probably would have been good from another 10 yards or so.
“It was cool,” Gostkowski said afterward. “With kicking, you can wait your whole career and never get a shot like that. You have to be very patient. It’s a very opportunistic job, and you’re only as good as the opportunities you get. I got a good opportunity, and I’m glad I took advantage of it.
“It was just a fun experience to have a hand in the win. To see the excitement in all the guys after making that kick was pretty cool.”
This opportunity came to impressive situational football by quarterback Tom Brady and the offense. Taking over at their own 7 with 33 seconds to play in the second quarter, Dion Lewis burst for a 20-yard gain, wide receiver Danny Amendola had an 18-yard catch and tight end Rob Gronkowski had a 10-yard reception to the Oakland 45.
“I think every time I’ve kicked a long kick, Gronk made the catch right beforehand, so it’s a nice little Polish connection,” Gostkowski joked.
Kraft awards Belichick
Belichick notched his 271st career win with the 33-8 blowout of the Raiders in Mexico City, moving past Cowboys legend Tom Landry into third place in NFL history for all-time wins behind Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324).
Patriots owner Robert Kraft presented his coach with a game ball after the historic win, though Belichick deflected the attention afterward.
“Really, that’s a credit to our players; players win games,” Belichick said. “They’re the ones who go out there and make the blocks, the tackles, the runs, the throws, the kicks. I think what it means is, No. 1, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and No. 2, I’ve coached a lot of great players. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great coaching staff, great assistant coaches and great players. I’ve had a great opportunity to direct those people and, really, the credit goes to the players.
“They won the game [Sunday] and they deserved to win because they played better. That’s the way it’s been on those 270 games or whatever it is. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great players.”
NOTES: DT Malcom Brown (ankle) missed his third straight game, despite returning to practice on a limited basis last week. … WR Chris Hogan has now missed two-plus games to a shoulder injury that came prior to the Week 9 bye. Hogan, who was last seen in the locker room wearing a sling, remained in New England last week while the team trained in Colorado Springs. … WR Matthew Slater (hamstring) was not in Mexico City for the game against Oakland, returning to New England last week while the Patriots trained in Colorado Springs after reinjuring the hamstring issue that dates back to training camp in the Week 10 win in Denver. … DB Eric Rowe (groin) was once again inactive despite having practiced on a limited basis for the last two weeks. The veteran has now missed the last six games to the injury. … RB Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch for the second straight week, now clearly the odd man out in a crowded and healthy Patriots backfield. … C David Andrews missed his first game of the season after missing practice all last week because of an unknown illness. … C/G Ted Karras started in place of David Andrews against Oakland, just the second career start for the second-year backup and first at center. … RT Marcus Cannon (ankle) missed his second straight game with the injury that dates back to the first half of the pre-bye Week 8 win over the Chargers. Veteran LaAdrian Waddle once again filled in for Cannon and more than held his own against Khalil Mack and the Raiders. … CB Stephon Gilmore (dehydration) missed some snaps in the middle of the battle with Oakland in Mexico City. The veteran corner retreated to the locker room, but later returned to finish the game, playing 58 of a possible 74 snaps on defense. … WR Danny Amendola (dehydration) retreated to the locker room in Mexico City, but returned to finish the game.