Bill Belichick watched his team improve to 3-0 in the preseason. (Jim Dedmon-USA Today Sports)
Bill Belichick watched his team improve to 3-0 in the preseason Friday night in a 19-17 win over the Panthers.
But infinitely more important is the progress he saw in key areas as the team prepares for the season opener Sept. 11 in Arizona.
The Patriots head coach saw his defense pick off three Carolina passes, including two interceptions of reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton. He saw Tom Brady play four series and throw a perfect 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan.
He saw Cyrus Jones, his prized rookie punt returner, rip off a 60-yard run to set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.
“It was a good run but really blocked well,” Belichick said of the third-quarter return. “We covered kicks well, probably best game we’ve had [in preseason].”
Of course, on the negative side, his starting quarterback for Sept. 11 clearly looked the most inferior of the three on the field Friday night as Jimmy Garoppolo struggled from beginning to his end in the third quarter. His team was 0-for-7 on third down in the first half and finished just 1-for-13 and missed its only chance on fourth down.
“I think all of our players have made progress and they all have things they need to work on,” Belichick said after the game. “We’ve moved ahead in a lot of areas. But we’re certainly not where we need to be. I don’t think any player is, any coach is and I’m sure no team is at this point. But we’re all making progress and that’s good. We’ve just got to keep our foot on the gas and try to make it as quickly as we can. That goes for everybody.”
All eyes were on Tom Brady as he made his 2016 preseason debut late in the first quarter. For the first time since Sept. 23, 2001, Brady came into an NFL game (of any kind) as a substitute quarterback.
“I thought that was the best way to play him,” Belichick said of the plan for Brady.
Brady hooked up with Chris Hogan on a perfect 33-yard TD pass that dropped into Hogan’s hands to cap his second drive.
“Carolina doesn’t play a lot of single-high coverage,” Belichick said. “They do it a few times a game. They play a little bit of quarters coverage a few times a game. When you get those opportunities, you’re talking about going up on them. We did a couple of times. That’s one we hit. That’s good to see us take advantage and convert that. We hit one last year to Dobson. When they give you that opportunity, and you don’t see many of them, you’ve got to make it count. Good throw, good catch.”
Perhaps what brought the most satisfaction to Belichick on the night were the three interceptions, all by Rutgers products. Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty (thanks to a tip from Chris Long) picked off Cam Newton and Duron Harmon intercepted Derek Anderson at the Patriots goal line.
“The Rutgers connection came through for us.” Belichick said with a smile.