Bill Belichick had a moment with the officials before halftime Saturday. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick had a moment with the officials before halftime Saturday. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick realizes the importance of preseason for players, coaches and yes, even officials.

That was never made more clear than Saturday night, right before halftime.

With the Patriots driving across midfield in their two-minute drive, and tempo and pace at a premium, referee-in-training Barry Anderson stopped the game after a Jimmy Garoppolo sideline completion of 10 yards to Brandon Gibson at the Saints 44 with :29 left. There was also a penalty on the play.

One problem. That play, penalty and all, never happened. Despite getting a full play off after a sliding catch by Gibson at the Patriots 46, and after the Patriots used a timeout, Anderson was buzzed, not about the Gibson sideline catch but the previous play. Anderson headed over to the hooded booth to take a look, as his trainer – referee Gene Steratore – looked on.

Belichick, meanwhile, was starting to get very agitated on the sidelines. It’s only preseason but still, he couldn’t figure it out. Why was the play before being reviewed after the Patriots got off another snap legally? And if that’s the case, why were the Patriots still charged their timeout? And what about the penalty on the play they just ran?

The ruling, Gibson’s catch with :37 left was a good catch after all. But the Patriots still lost their timeout and the 10 yard catch.

Confusing? You bet.

“Oh boy. Well, it was. There was a replay from the booth, and then there were timing issues of what was going to be on the clock versus what was actually up there, the explanation from the referee on his announcement versus what was actually communicated to the bench, to the sideline,” Belichick said Sunday. “I called a timeout on a play that there was a penalty on so was that a timeout or was it not a timeout? Did the penalty override it? There were several things that came up there, and I think, again, it’s preseason for all of us. We’€™re kind of working our way through some of those situations.”

Belichick suggested that NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino might have a better answer.

“There were several things that came up consecutively there, and they in a way it kind of played off each other. The timing was certainly a part of it ‘€“ how much time was left, and then ultimately whether a timeout was or wasn’t going to be charged. It was a short completion and then a penalty on the play for a late hit I think. Did the timeout count or not count? Were we going to have time to call the guys over and take a timeout, or was the play going to continue and time get wiped off and all of that?

“So, there was definitely some just trying to clear up exactly what the situation was. At the same time, the officials are trying to keep the game going. They’re not trying to stop and have a conversation at the end of every play, so there’s a tempo and pace of play issue but then there’s also a communication issue in terms of just knowing exactly what’s happening. All of those things, it was a unique situation the way it all kind of happened together, and I’m sure there was confusion up there because there was confusion on the field, too.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Reggie Wayne has intrigued the Patriots for many years. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Reggie Wayne has intrigued the Patriots for many years. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Patriots may finally be getting some help from the outside to replenish their quickly depleting corps of wide receivers.

Reggie Wayne arrived in New England Saturday night as the Patriots were losing Brandon Gibson to a right leg injury. The former Pro Bowl receiver who made a spectacular career with the Colts catching passes from Peyton Manning is expected to undergo a physical Sunday in Foxboro.

Bill Belichick did not make reference to Wayne being in town during his conference call on Sunday.

Gibson’s right leg injury is the latest in a spate of injuries to hit the wide receiving group, as Brandon LaFell (PUP), Julian Edelman, Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson are all nursing various injuries.

This does not include the reported injury to tight end Scott Chandler. Neither Chandler nor Rob Gronkowski (rest) have played a preseason snap this year.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Jimmy Garoppolo showed more poise in the pocket Saturday night in a win in New Orleans. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Jimmy Garoppolo showed more poise in the pocket Saturday night in a win in New Orleans. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The sight of Jimmy Garoppolo scrambling around in the pocket for his life may not seem like the ideal situation for the Patriots with the prospect of Tom Brady serving a season-opening suspension.

But to Bill Belichck, Garoppolo’s ability to keep a play alive and show he can throw down the field under the gun is exactly what he wanted to see. During his conference call Sunday morning, Belichick explained that the touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the first half to Chris Harper displayed skills that can’t really be replicated in practice.

“Those are the types of plays that, offensively and defensively, we work on in practice. But those scrambles in practice are never quite the same as in the game because you’re not hitting the quarterback and you’re not really trying to get him down and all that,” Belichick said. “It was good to actually come up, where the quarterback does truly have to scramble and avoid pressure, make a decision, get his head up and get the ball down the field. We saw that defensively last week with Aaron Rodgers. He extended a number of plays and then [Saturday] night, Jimmy had a couple, particularly the touchdown right before the half. Again, those are plays we talk a lot about but we can’t really fully execute them like they are in a game, whichever side offense or defense. We need to practice those so it was good that they came up and we certainly teach off those.”

Belichick, a stickler for execution of situational football, was also very pleased with the way his team responded to specific situations. There was the drive that started from the Patriots 20 with 68 seconds left in the first half, ending with a touchdown. There was the heady play by linebacker James Morris to strip the runner of the ball from behind, flipping field position in the third quarter and leading to a touchdown and then there were the final two field goal drives sandwiched around a three-and-out defensive stop to win the game.

“Yeah, absolutely. We know we weren’t playing for the AFC championship but it’s competition and it’s going out there, trying to do well and then play situation football, according to whatever it is, if you’re ahead, you’re behind or you needed a field goal, a touchdown or whatever it is.

Those are all situations that we’ve practiced and worked on. You can’t control those. You don’t know what’s going to happen in a game. You’re ready for, hopefully, whichever ones come up. The ones that came up [Saturday] we worked through. Some of it was what we wanted to do. Some of it we need to go back and talk about and correct, both on the coaching end and on the playing end. There’s a lot of good learning experience for all of us. You just try to take advantage of whichever situations come up and the ones [Saturday] night were a lot of good situational football examples, whether it was trying to score, trying to get the ball back.

There were really three two-minute drives at the end of the [first] half, one that we had we didn’t score on, then one they scored on quickly and then another one we scored on after we got it back after their score. Those were great situations for us to learn from. We practiced them and they came up in the game. Situation football is a big part of the game. It’s not all first-and-10 and second down out in the middle of the field. There are a lot of very specific situations. It was good to have an opportunity to practice some of those and learn from them. Whether the guys that were in there and even for those of us that weren’t, to go through what we want to do and how we want to do it, the real, live situation like that is as good a teaching tool as you can have. No matter how many times you practice it, it’s still more realistic in the game. It was good.”

Here are some other takeaways from Belichick’s conference call Sunday:

On the improvement of Jimmy Garoppolo and the offensive line, which featured left tackle Nate Solder, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, guards Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason and center David Andrews:

“I think we made some improvement from last week offensively, period. And that’s in every area. That was good. We had a good week of practice against the Saints. That was a positive as well. Just the entire week, not just the game [Saturday] night. Everybody is getting a little better, just playing at a little bit higher level, as we should with more practice and more reps, and working together a little bit better. Of course, that’s a big part of the offensive line, is those guys all trying to see the game as one and get all on the same page so that those five guys can properly block the five guys they’re assigned to, which can have a few variations from play to play.

Overall, I thought we made some progress. We certainly have a lot of things to work on, a long way to go. I thought that that group competed well, especially after the slow start we had in the first half really till really late in the second quarter, we weren’t able to do too much. But from that point on, our execution was better, our confidence grew and we were able to be competitive. Those were all positives.”

On the two illegal formation calls on offensive lineman/tight end Cameron Fleming:

“From the assignment and technique standpoint, he’s playing one spot wider than he normally plays at tackle. There’s some adjustment obviously but it’s not really that major of a difference, and he’s handled that well. Going in and out of the game in those situations, that’s just part of what we do with our personnel groups. We do that with our receivers, our backs and he gets involved with that as a lineman when we go to that unit. We’ve done that as far as to increase our depth and flexibility with our formations at the tight end positions, which we’ve been a little thin at.”

On playing a lot of younger players during the game:

“It’s a combination of building depth but also evaluating players that we haven’t seen as much of, particularly in practice. The majority of our practice reps, especially this week, went to players that had had more experience, working with a group that’s a little bit ahead of some of the guys that played.

“Take a look at the guys who didn’t get as many reps in practice, try to get [them] more reps in the game so that’s how we try to balance it out. Part of it’s depth and part of it is straight out evaluation, trying to figure out what’s the best way to put this team together.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Bradley Fletcher (24) breaks up a pass intended for Seantavius Jones of the New Orleans Saints in preseason action Saturday night. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Bradley Fletcher (24) breaks up a pass intended for Seantavius Jones of the New Orleans Saints in preseason action Saturday night. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

It was the singular play that seemed to make Devin McCourty feel uncomfortable about his presence on the corner Saturday night.

Speedy receiver Brandin Cooks blew past McCourty at the line of scrimmage and then ran past free safety Duron Harmon before catching a perfect pass from Drew Brees for a 45-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.

Bill Belichick watched the play on film afterward and wasn’t as hard on McCourty.

“It’s a great play by two great players, Brees and Cooks,” Belichick said in a Sunday morning conference call. “Obviously, it could’ve been defended a little bit better. I’ve seen a lot worse defense than on that play but it wasn’t good enough because Brees made a great throw, Cooks ran a great route, ran through [to] to the ball.”

More important to Belichick was the situation. Brees had just completed a pass to Cooks on McCourty to set up a first-and-10 at the Patriots 45.

“It was a good play for us to learn from,” Belichick said. “Sometimes in practice you pull off those plays at the end, avoid the contact, Would you have it? Wouldn’t you have it? Would it have been complete? Would it have been incomplete? But all that shows up in the game. We can definitely learn from that about just the whole situation, the play-action, the first-and-10 in a drive, which is what is kind of an alert for us at that point, anyway. Better pass rush, a long extended play that we obviously could have obviously defended better.”

There has been lots of speculation as to what McCourty playing on the corner in the game and in practice means down the road in the Patriots’ secondary. Perhaps sending a message to McCourty, Belichick cautioned Sunday that the different roles in the secondary is the best way the coaching staff and team can build depth.

“It’s been good for all of us,” Belichick said. “As we move forward, we’ll try to narrow that down but at some point, we may be using different people in different spots and we’ll have to come back to the base that we’re trying to build now and the depth we’re trying to build now, with players playing multiple positions and trying to create depth for ourselves at all positions on the team, not just the secondary.”

Saturday was a teaching point as Harmon continues to learn how to communicate with his cornerbacks.

“Overall, I think our secondary and communication has been good,” Belichick added. “We’ve played a lot of people in a lot of different combinations and that’s sort of forced everybody to really work harder on the communication. It’s not always the same two guys with their own way of communication, whether it’s a signal or a nod or however subtle it is. When you work with a lot of people, you’ve got to build that ability to communicate throughout the entire unit, with whichever players you’re paired up with.”

As Belichick noted after the game, there were several competitive plays by the secondary that prevented scores, such as McCourty and Bradley Fletcher each breaking up would-be touchdown receptions in the red zone.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Jimmy Garoppolo was much more comfortable Saturday, in and out of the pocket, and it showed.

The quarterback replaced Tom Brady after the first three series and completed 28-of-33 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once and wasn’t sacked, nine days after taking seven sacks against Green Bay.

For a second straight week, Garoppolo managed to put points on the board in the final 15 seconds before halftime and led a comeback from a 21-0 hole as the Patriots prevailed, 26-24 Saturday night at the Superdome.

There was a lot of encouraging signs to take from Garoppolo’s performance.

“It was good game tonight, guys made some plays and came away with a victory,” Garoppolo said. “Obviously, you get two days of practice against them and have a walkthrough the third day, that’s obviously going to help. You go against these guys, you learn as fast as you can, learn their coverages, their fronts, all their different schemes and try to put it toward the game. Obviously, it’s helpful.”

Maybe most impressive is that Garoppolo took a depleted receiving corps and allowed a group of young players and backups to make plays to win a game. Brandon Gibson caught eight passes on nine targets. Jonathan Krause caught all six passes thrown to him and Chris Harper reeled in five of the eight passes thrown at him. That’s not bad for a team without Rob Gronkowski (rest) and the injured Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson.

“Not just those three guys, all the guys, the tight ends, everybody, backs,” Garoppolo said. “They were all making plays. The O-line did a tremendous job today. I barely got touched. Felt a lot better than last week. It’s a team effort. We all went out there, made the plays when their number got called. Everyone was doing their job, really.”

The key for Garoppolo was orchestrating another compressed two-minute drill in the final 68 seconds of the half. He managed to a pass to Dion Lewis, who ran 10 yards and stepped out of bounds. He then found Jonathan Krause over the middle. A personal foul moved the ball to the Saints’ 24. On the next play, Garoppolo found his right leg being tugged but he wrangled himself loose and fired a seed to Harper for a momentum-changing touchdown.

“There was a good momentum swing into the half, that’s for sure. Being down 21-0 is never a good thing. So to get that touchdown before the half on a little bit of a scramble play really helped us I thought.”

“I wanted to get the ball out quickly. Last week, pressure got to me a little bit. It’s never good to get sacked or hit that many times. Just wanted to get it out quickly and have a more productive game than last week. I had the guy on my leg. It’s just one of those things that happens. Just got to go make a play at times.”

Garoppolo also engineered the game-winning drive, capped by Stephen Gostkowski‘s game-winning 35-yard boot with 14 seconds left, sparking congratulatory pats on the back from Tom Brady.

“He’s awesome on the sideline,” Garoppolo said. “Tom, he’s congratulating guys, keeping everyone up, keeping us going. All the guys on the sideline. I thought it was a real good team effort on the sideline, especially.”

Ironically, the only time Garoppolo really felt pressure, he was deep in his own end and should’ve taken a sack. Instead, the Patriots quarterback desperately heaved the ball off his back foot. The floater was picked off and set up a field goal that gave New Orleans a 24-20 lead.

“Just a poor decision, really. Can’t make the throw,” Garoppolo said. “We’re backed up. You don’t want to make a mistake in that type of situation so, it’s just a poor decision, really.”

“Obviously, after an interception, you always want to get it back as fast as you can. You hope the defense does a great job like they did. You’ve got to forget about it quickly. That’s part of being a quarterback, short memory.

“Getting the ball out quickly was a big thing. Last week, I didn’t do a very good job of that. Held the ball for a little too long. I took that over to this game. I think just as a team, overall, we did a great job offensively. Guys were making plays, doing their jobs. Good things happen when you do that.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Bill Belichick saw his team pull out a 26-24 win over the Saints Saturday night in New Orleans.</p>
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One look at the highlights Saturday and you could tell Devin McCourty was not exactly happy to be back at starting cornerback.

Devin McCourty had his hands full with Brandin Cooks of the Saints all night. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty had his hands full with Brandin Cooks of the Saints all night. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

One look at the highlights Saturday and you could tell Devin McCourty was not exactly happy to be back at starting cornerback.

With Duron Harmon playing McCourty’s old spot of free safety and Patrick Chung starting at strong saftety, McCourty, who has been practicing the last two weeks with the cornerback groups, played exclusively as a corner in Saturday’s 26-24 preseason win over the Saints at the Superdome.

The six-year veteran, who just signed a new five-year, $47.5 million contract two days before free agency was targeted by Drew Brees several times in the first three series.

The results were mixed, and that’s probably being kind even by McCourty’s own admission to reporters after the game.

“It didn’t feel great and I don’t think it looked great,” said McCourty, who also admitted that he hoped the move by the defensive coaching staff was experimental and not permanent.

The results weren’t all bad. McCourty broke up a certain touchdown connection from Drew Brees to Brandon Coleman, forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal on their first drive. Bill Belichick, after the game, gave props to McCourty for his effort on that play. But on the second and third series, Brees appeared to be picking on McCourty just a bit, completing an 18-yard pass to Brandin Cooks to the Patriots’45. The next play, Cooks ran past McCourty and eventually Duron Harmon for a 45-yard touchdown pass on a post route.

McCourty got the start at right corner over the likes of Bradley Fletcher and Tarell Brown, who got some looks at the slot or “star” corner spot on the inside.

Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia began to toy with the idea of McCourty as a free safety in 2012, taking advantage of his ball-hawking and signal-calling skills and taking the pressure off him as a cover man. Then in 2013, they moved McCourty over to free safety full time.

It should be noted that the preseason is a time for experimentation as the Patriots search for ways of filling the void left by Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington in their secondary.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Bill Belichick has never been one to be overwhelmed with the play of rookies and young players in preseason games.

Bill Belichick thinks some of his young players might have a shot at an NFL roster. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick thinks some of his young players might have a shot at an NFL roster. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick has never been one to be overwhelmed with the play of rookies and young players in preseason games.

But on Saturday night, the Patriots coach made a notable exception to that policy when he credited the competitiveness of players like receivers Chris Harper and Jonathan Krause and linebacker James Morris in helping the Patriots overcome a 21-0 hole and escape Bourbon Street with a 26-24 win over the Saints in preseason action at the Superdome.

The final drive was a microcosm of what impressed Belichick on the night. There was a 28-yard punt return from Harper, the rookie free agent out of Cal that set Jimmy Garoppolo up at the Saints’ 45. There was a catch from Krause over the middle for 22 yards to the New Orleans 23, setting up the 35-yard game-winning field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.

“There was a big punt return from Chris at the end to set up the field goal, good catch from Jonathan, some good running from our backs,” Belichick said. “Obviously, a lot of things we’ve got to learn from and improve on but I thought our guys hung in there and competed and eventually made enough plays to make it competitive after being down 21-0. Get back to work this week, get ready for Carolina and keep correcting our mistakes.

“Gave a lot of looks to some young players and some of them definitely looked like they had some positive moments. We’ll look at the film and take a closer look but maybe some of these guys showed they deserve another chance or deserve a chance to play in this league. We’ll see how that goes.”

The Patriots play Carolina next Friday in Charlotte before returning home for the final preseason game on Sept. 3 at Gillette Stadium against the Giants.

Jimmy Garoppolo was 28-of-33 for 268 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Tom Brady played the first three series and was 3-and-out each time, completing just 2-of-5 passes for 13 yards. He was 0-for-3 on third down passes, including two for Danny Amendola. Brady so far this preseason is 3-for-9 for 23 yards in five series.

“We obviously had a lot of trouble there in the first half, particularly the first quarter,” Belichick said of the 21-0 hole his team fell into in the second quarter. The Patriots allowed a field goal and three touchdowns, with the Saints missing the two-point conversion each time. “Started with Brandin Cooks, glad we don’t have to play against him twice a year, not in our division. He’s really a good player. Saints came out and played very well. We couldn’t do anything offensively and had a hard time stopping them.”

One of the big plays of the second half came when second-year linebacker James Morris out of Iowa stripped Ryan Griffin at the Patriots’ 25. The Patriots took the ball the other way and scored on a James White TD run.

“But we made a few good situational plays over the course of the night, Devin’s breakup in the red area, Fletcher’s breakup in the red area, James Morris’ strip. Those were some really big plays that helped us get some stops, get some points. Eventually, we got the running game going a little bit. I thought we protected the quarterback well, thought our receivers competed and made some plays.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia