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Patriots focus on positive

Coach finds good in bad game

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / August 22, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - With apologies to late basketball coach Chuck Daly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is the pigskin Prince of Pessimism, or at least the Prince of Pragmatism.

So, it was surprising that one day after Belichick caustically criticized his team’s performance in a 7-6 exhibition defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals, he dropped his dour demeanor and mollified his comments with a dash of optimism about some strong individual performances and positive developments among the morass of mediocrity on display Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

It was both a reversal and reverse psychology, a ploy to give his team some positives to build on following a negative effort that featured nine penalties for 96 yards and seven punts as the Patriots prepare for their third (and most meaningful) exhibition game - Friday, on the road, against the Washington Redskins.

“I thought that as I said there were a number of things that we could have done better on all levels, from situational football to just basic execution, penalties, other little things, but within that there were plenty of good individual performances,’’ said Belichick. “Hopefully, there are some positive things that we can continue to build on and if we can get a few things straightened out and pull a few things together we can get back to playing a little higher level of football that we need to play.’’

Among the positives Belichick picked up on were the play of wide receiver Joey Galloway, running back Fred Taylor, cornerback Shawn Springs, and defensive end Ty Warren, and the opportunity to put backup quarterback Kevin O’Connell in a situation that could arise during the season.

It was a surprise when O’Connell came on for the Patriots’ final drive. Undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer had replaced O’Connell to start the second half. However, Hoyer took a hit while scrambling on the team’s penultimate drive, which ended at the Cincinnati 12 after a BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumble.

The rookie QB couldn’t recite some of the team’s two-minute plays, so O’Connell, who had played most of the second quarter, had to come in cold, the Patriots trailing by a point and starting at their 18 with 1:48 to go and no timeouts.

It was a perfect simulation for the backup role.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ said Belichick. “As the backup quarterback, you never know when that call is going to come. It could come in the first quarter. It could come the last drive, and so those guys always have to be ready. It was a great situation. It was a tough one.

“Some of the plays I thought were kind of what we wanted to do from an execution standpoint, but then we had pressure, we got sacked, we had to scramble out of there. It wasn’t the drive we were looking for, but it was a good situation for all of us to learn from. I think Kevin did some good things on that drive, but we would have still liked to have gotten the ball closer so we still had a chance to at least attempt a field goal.’’

The late game-scenario wasn’t the only offensive positive Belichick highlighted.

Galloway looked out of synch last Thursday against the Eagles, but said he felt “a little more comfortable’’ in his second game.

“I think Joey is definitely making good progress, and he’s done a good job picking up our offensive system,’’ Belichick said. “We played him more in the slot than we did last week against Philadelphia. That helps his versatility and gives us another dimension to what we’re doing offensively. I thought he performed pretty well in some limited opportunities.’’

Taylor sat out the first exhibition game. In his debut, he verified what the coaching staff has seen since he was acquired, running seven times for 26 yards.

“He’s been very consistent all the way through, but he did good things [in] his first real opportunity, and I thought he ran the ball well, broke some tackles and made some guys miss and played physically,’’ said Belichick.

There were also reasons for optimism on defense, where Warren and Springs, two key defenders, saw their first game action.

Warren started training camp on the physically unable to perform list after double groin, hernia, and right knee surgeries in the offseason. He was taken off the list Aug. 9 and began practicing. Against the Bengals, Warren was credited with three tackles (one for a loss) and a quarterback hit.

“It was good to have Ty back out there,’’ said Belichick. “I thought he showed up positively on a number of plays. There were things that he could have at times reacted a little bit more quickly to, but for his first time out there I thought he was OK, and I’m sure he’ll continue to build on that . . . I think physically he’s fine.’’

Springs missed the first three days of camp with flu-like symptoms, practiced for two days, and then disappeared until returning to practice Monday. He said it won’t take him long to get back to form.

“He’s working hard at it mentally. He’s into everything. He makes very, very few mistakes,’’ said Belichick.

Time will tell if putting a positive charge into his team will pay off for Belichick.

“You can take some positives from every game,’’ said safety Brandon Meriweather. “Even games you lose 100 to nothing, you can take some positives from. You just want to take everything as a [steppingstone] and get better every day. We still have some things we need to do better. We still have a long way to go.’’

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