FOXBOROUGH — Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave credit where credit was due — particularly to his defense — when he addressed the media during his postgame press conference at Gillette Stadium following his team’s dramatic 23-20 win over the Ravens in the AFC Championship game.
“That was obviously a draining game, but great to come out on top of it like we did,” Belichick said. “As I said, all the credit has got to go to the players. Those guys fought for 60 minutes. It wasn’t perfect, but they went out there and they played their hearts out and sometimes good things happen when do that. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the Ravens. That’s a good football team. It starts at the top with [owner] Steve Bisciotti and [GM] Ozzie Newsome and [coach] John Harbaugh. That team is well put together. They’re tough, they’re competitive, they’re great — that was a great game today. I just thought that our guys stepped up there in the end. Our red area defense was big. The fourth-down touchdown was a great play by Tom [Brady] to be able to recognize that he could make it over the top. Back and forth game, three turnovers. Usually not a good way to play these games, but fortunately we were able to overcome it and come out on top. It feels great. It feels great. We’re thrilled and like I said, I think the players really deserve it. They worked extremely hard this year.”
Belichick spoke about the biggest defensive play that helped seal the victory: Cornerback Sterling Moore’s strip in the end zone on the Ravens’ Lee Evans during the last drive of the game.
“Sterling has done a good job for us here the last few weeks, going back to the Buffalo game and then last week against Denver,” Belichick said. “He made some plays. Not perfect out there, but he competes hard and he’s a tough kid. He’s got good ball skills. He gets around the ball.”
More from Belichick’s postgame presser:
Q: If I heard Tom correctly at the podium, he said he sucked. What do you think about that?
Belichick: I don’t know. I think there were a lot of things in the game that could have been better; that’s obvious. We could have played better on offense, could have played better on defense, could have played better in the kicking game, but we did enough things to win against a good football team. They made some mistakes out there, too. I think that’s what happens when two teams get together: they make some plays, you make some plays and it comes down to one shot.
Q: With Moore giving up that early touchdown, were you at all worried about him mentally going forward?
Belichick: No. No, you can’t play that position – you can’t play any position in this league – if all it takes is one play, then you’re in the wrong business. We all have bad plays. Coaches have bad plays, players have bad plays. You have to bounce back and play the next play and that’s what the NFL is. We have a competitive team. Look, we’ve had a lot of things that haven’t been perfect out there, but we have everybody that will stand in there and fight and give it their best all the way through and that’s a good place to be and that’s what I like about this team. They’re tough, they’re competitive and they really don’t lose their confidence or get down on themselves; they just go out there and keep competing and see what happens.
Q: You looked like you were in disbelief when the final field goal went wide left.
Belichick: Well, I couldn’t really tell from the angle. I was standing there about where he kicked it from and I couldn’t really tell. I just heard the fans yelling so I wasn’t sure. Look, you have to make plays under pressure in this league. That’s not the first one.
Q: Did you cite Vince Wilfork in your speech on TV?
Belichick: I thought Vince had a lot of big plays today. It looked like there were a couple things in the interior part of our defense that could have been a little better; I mean, [Ray] Rice got through there a few times, but we hit the quarterback, we did a decent job in the running game, especially early. And then they punched a few through there in the second half, but I thought our guys up from did a good job. They do a good job running the ball and for the most part we didn’t really have our safeties involved too much in the run for us. It was pretty much with the front seven, so those guys had to handle it themselves and I though there were competitive doing that.
Q: Did Vince Wilfork lead the way on that?
Belichick: I mean, he leads the way for us on defense – he and Jerod [Mayo]. Vince is obviously our most experienced player and he’s been a great leader, great captain all year. His leadership has been tremendous – so has Jerod’s. You can’t say enough about Mayo. He does everything for us in terms of calling defenses, making adjustments, the running game, the passing game. He’s the first guy in the building every day and the last one to leave, so those guys have been great all year. I can’t say enough about both of them. And Devin [McCourty] in the secondary, now that he’s a captain. He’s done a great job for us. All six of those guys really – [Matthew] Slater, Brady, [Logan] Mankins – it’s really an outstanding group and I think our overall preparation over the last couple weeks and their leadership and their confidence has carried over to the rest of the team. They’ve set the pace and the rest of the guys have fallen in step. It’s been awesome – certainly a lot better than some other years I can think of.
Q: Can you talk a little about how well the offensive line played today?
Belichick: Yeah, those guys have done a great job all year – Matt [Light] and Nate [Solder] outside and of course Brian [Waters] and Dan [Connolly] and Logan inside. We got some help from our tight ends at times doing some chipping and Tom got the ball out quick. Our receivers got open, so the ball came out fairly quickly. We didn’t have to hold it too many times. A couple times Tom was able to hang on to it back there. Those guys have been great all year. Dante [Scarnecchia] played with four different centers. We’ve had a lot of moving parts in there, but no matter who’s stepped in there, they’ve played well, they’ve played hard and really given us pretty good protection. I thought they did a good job in the run blocking today. That was a big touchdown that Benny [Green-Ellis] had from the 7- or 8-yard line. That was a big play for us. Were able to run it down there to the 1 with Woody [Danny Woodhead]. The Ravens are an excellent red area defense, obviously; we had trouble getting it in. But they’re good against everybody – as good as anybody in the league. Being able to run the ball down there and get it either into the end zone or into position to score on a quarterback sneak, that was huge for us.
Q: Do you feel for Billy Cundiff missing that kick?
Belichick: All you can do is go out there and compete and do the best you can. That’s the way it is. That’s competition. That’s the National Football League. We had some to kick. They had some to kick.
Q: Can you talk a little about the energy that Brandon Spikes brings to the team and to the defense?
Belichick: Yeah, Brandon brings a lot, he really does. He brings a lot. He’s got a good style of play. He’s a tough player, he’s a hard hitter and he’s made some big plays for us. He definitely brings and energy level when he’s out there, whether it be in practice or in the games. And certainly when he makes plays, a lot of the time they’re impact plays, whether they’re hard tackles or turnovers or forced fumbles, interceptions and those kinds of things. He’s got a nose for the ball and really, he’s a surprisingly good pass defender. He’s got a real instinctiveness that a lot of linebackers don’t have, especially guys that are good run players. But he kind of has a good sense for where the quarterback is looking and he’s long and he’s tall and he’s got long arms and he’s able to get to some balls that a lot of those guys can’t get to.
Q: Have you been building towards showing more mental toughness? You’ve obviously fought back from some adversity.
Belichick: We’ve been trying to do that for 11 years. That started when we got here. Over the course of the years and guys – like some of the guys that were there today: [Tedy] Bruschi and [Ty] Law and Rodney Harrison, [Mike] Vrabel, you can go right down the line with guys that were showing a lot of mental toughness. It wasn’t always about them. They always fought, they gave you their best and they hung in there no matter what the circumstances were. That’s what mental toughness is bout and that’s something that we’ve tried to bring here since I got here in 2000 and that’s something that’s always going to be important to us. Some years it’s better than others, but it’s always a high priority for us. We try to get that all the time.
Q: You and Tom are the first QB-coach combo to go to five Super Bowls together.
Belichick: Anything that’s associated with winning, I’m proud of. I mean, I’m proud – there’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady. He’s the best. He does so much for us in so many ways on so many different levels. I’m really fortunate that he’s our quarterback and for what he’s able to do for this team. It’s good to win with him and all the rest of our players. If that’s more than somebody else did, I don’t really care about that, but it’s nice to be able to win with him and the rest of our team. Like I said at the beginning, I think the players deserve it; they’ve worked really had this year. We’ve had a lot of different challenges and those guys have stepped up there and tried to meet them every week. It hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve never backed down. They didn’t back down from Pittsburgh on the road. They didn’t back down when we’ve been down by 17 or 21 points in the game, all that stuff. Same thing today; they were driving, but we hung in there and were able to hold them to a field goal situation. [Rob] Gronkowski goes out and somebody else goes in there and we drive the ball down the field and get into scoring position. Like I said, I think that’s a real credit to the players and I’m really happy for them that they’re going to get to play in this next game.