Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in his weekly interview on WEEI's The Big Show, said that coaches have to be "careful" about making decisions about selective substitutions for players late in the game. He suggested that he's uncomfortable trying to protect some players from injury in the later stages of a game but leaving others on the field.
"I don't think that's really a good way to approach a team. I've never done that. I don't think that would be a very successful approach to it," said Belichick. "You only have so many players. You only dress so many players. Somebody's got to play. I think you've got to be careful when you're trying to run a team, to go up to one guy and say, 'Michael, we're going to leave you in the game because we care about you, but Glenn, we're going to take you out because you're really important. You other guys go in there because if something happens to you, we don't really care.'
"Again, I think football players play football. I don't know how, you tell me which guy is going to get hurt and I'll get him out of there. I don't know how you do that."
Belichick discussed why tight end Rob Gronkowski was not on the field for the Patriots' last scoring drive of the game but was part of the protection team while New England attempted its point after touchdown.
"I think in terms of Rob, the end of the game gave us an opportunity to play [Visanthe] Shiancoe, who didn't play for half the season. He had an opportunity to get some more reps," said Belichick. "Some guys that had less playing time, it was a good opportunity to get them in there. I didn't see anything wrong with that.
"At the same time, I can just hear it now, if somebody else was in at wing [on the point after attempt] who wasn't used to playing for the field goal team, a guy came around the edge and dove in there, somebody, the holder or kicker got torn up, it would have been, 'Why was he in there? Why wouldn't you go with the same guys doing it the whole game?' We can play that game all day. As long as you know what the results are, then you always have the right argument," he added. "But, like I said, players are prepared to play for 60 minutes. The game is 60 minutes long. If you can take a guy out or want to take a guy out for a reason, you can do that, but guys have got to play."
There are realities, Belichick said, that require keeping players on the field even late in lopsided games.
"You play the game. Then, if there's a certain point where you want to change the way you're playing it, then you can make those changes, whichever ones you can make," said Belichick. "As an example, the offensive line -- there's seven offensive lineman. You can't take five guys out and put two in. Somebody's got to play. Somebody's got to play receiver. Somebody's got to carry the ball. Somebody's got to do everything. However you manage that, not saying you can't do it, but you've got to give it some thought. It's not like college, where you've got 100 guys standing on the sidelines and you put in a whole new group of guys. That's not really realistic in the National Football League."