You would not know from listening to Bill Belichick's postgame press conference Sunday that the Patriots clinched the number two seed in the AFC and earned a first-round playoff bye following a 28-0 win against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
While Belichick said he was proud of the team's overall effort in Sunday's win he refused to discuss the Patriots' playoff positioning.
"Whatever it is, it is," Belichick said of the Patriots earning the second seed in the AFC and a bye in next weekend's Wild Card round. "When we have to play, we’ll play."
Belichick didn't bite when asked what the advantage of not having to play Wild Card weekend was.
"I don't know," he said.
What Belichick did know was that his team showed up to play Sunday at Gillette Stadium, closing out the regular season with a dominant performance against the Dolphins.
"I thought it was a real good performance by our team," Belichick said. "Those guys really did a good job. We had a good week of practice. They were obviously ready to go. The players played well. We got good contributions from all three phases of the game and had a lot of guys step up and make plays. I don’t want to single anybody out; there were so many guys that contributed. It was a good solid effort; proud of our team. The results are what they are. We’ll see how it goes here going forward. Hopefully this will be a good game that we can step off from and keep working to improve and get better in our next outing."
The following transcript from Belichick's press conference is courtesy of the Patriots Media Relations Department.
Q: Were you aware of the Houston-Indianapolis result going into the game?
BB: Yeah, we got the score before the game. We can’t really worry about what everybody else is doing. We have to do what we can do and whatever else happens, happens.
Q: What went into the decision to play Rob Gronkowski today?
BB: He was ready to play.
Q: Would he have still played if Houston hadn’t lost at one o’clock?
BB: He was ready to play.
Q: For a guy who just got a first round bye and wrapped up a division title, you don’t look overjoyed.
BB: We wrapped up the division a month ago.
Q: But it’s pretty good news to get the bye.
BB: Whatever it is, it is. When we have to play, we’ll play.
Q: How big of an advantage is it to not have to play next week?
BB: I don’t know.
Q: Your defensive front did a good job today – you had a season-high seven sacks. Can you talk about their effort today?
BB: They did a good job but it’s team defense. Guys were covered, the quarterback had to hold the ball, they helped the pass rush. Guys rushed well, guys covered well. When the receivers are open, it doesn’t matter what your pass rush is. If you make the quarterback hold the ball then that helps the pass rush. It was good team defense. We did a good job in the running game. There were some long yardage situations and of course we got ahead in the game, that obviously made them have to throw more so that worked in our advantage too. It was good team defense today. Again, I couldn’t single anybody out. The guys in the back end played well, the guys up front played well. It was a big turnover to start the game, put us in good field position early. Of course, Dont’a [Hightower] jumped on that fumble down there on the goal line which we had several fumbles against them in the last game and only recovered one so it was good to be able to get that one.
Q: Justin Francis played well too.
BB: Again, I think some of that is overrated. There were several times when one guy came in and flushed the quarterback out and somebody else got him. If we get him as team, we get him. But they all did a good job –Justin, Chandler [Jones], Vince [Wilfork], Brandon [Deaderick], Kyle [Love], Trevor [Scott], Rob [Ninkovich] – they all did a good job.
Q: With the great strides that Rob Ninkovich has made and I’m sure you don’t have a diagnosis on him yet, but what’s your feeling on having a player like that go off during the game?
BB: We’ll see what it is. I don’t know, we’ll see what it is.
Q: Can you talk about your team’s toughness? This team seems to be a tough team – it was cold out today with less than ideal conditions and it seems like you’ve been tough all year long.
BB: Yeah, it was certainly good today. It wasn’t too good a couple weeks ago when we handed the ball away the whole game or the first half of it anyway. No, it was good today. The conditions weren’t easy but the players handled them well, they handled the ball well for the most part. We dropped some balls but overall we took care of it. Didn’t turn it over, that was good; tackled OK, so I think our overall execution on today’s game, in a lot of areas given the elements and all that, was good. Hopefully we can do that on a consistent basis.
Q: Can you talk about Rob Ninkovich’s versatility? It seems like he does so many things that other teams need to use multiple players to do. How valuable is that?
BB: He’s mainly played defensive end this year but he’s also of course played in the kicking game and at times he’s played some linebacker. But he’s done that before in the past for us. Yeah, it’s pretty common. There are a lot of guys in the league that can play linebacker but then go to rush on third down. We’ve been in four-man fronts so he’s been rushing most of the time. He’s a tough kid. He’s very competitive and he’s got good versatility. His ability to help us in the kicking game as well as defensively over the years, including this year, is pretty valuable too. He does a good job.
Q: It seems like your defense has really made progress over the course of the season. Today you didn’t have some of your guys and you still played well. Do you feel good about where they are now at the end of the season?
BB: I don’t know. We played good today. We’ll see what happens the next time we play. Every week is its own challenge so we’ll see how we do against somebody else or what that matchup is. Today they did a good job. Anytime you can hold a team to no points in this league, you have to be doing something right.