FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick walked past the table with the shined-up AFC trophy, which was flanked by a Patriots helmet and Ravens helmet, and smiled at the large gathering of reporters present this morning at Gillette Stadium.
After checking that he was good to begin -- NFL Network was broadcasting the news conference live -- Belichick opened his remarks by saying it was an honor to be playing in the AFC Championship Game.
"Our team has worked hard this year. You have to give a lot of credit to the players for all the obstacles that we've encountered and they've endured, and they've played through," Belichick said, as the sound of photographers snapping pictures filled the air. "Excited about the game; great challenge going against the Ravens. It's an outstanding football team."
Belichick, who smiled at various points and referred to reporters by name at times, seemed to be embracing the moment. Afterward, one reporter referred to him as "charming."
Some highlights from Belichick:
1. Praise for Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. "Two of the greatest players to ever play the game, and on the same team and the same defense for so many years, I don't know where to start. The play Ed Reed makes at the end of the game against Houston last week, I think that says it all really. He's playing one side of the field, trying to stay over the top of [Andre] Johnson, who they single up on the backside. I'm sure they were looking for him -- if he had single coverage they want to throw it up to him -- but Reed is over the top of him. Then they throw the Hail Mary to the other side and he comes all the way across the field and makes the play. Really kind of a game-saving play. Those are the kind of plays he makes. He probably covers more field back there as a single safety than most teams can cover with two. He has great instincts. Ray Lewis, everything he brings to the game -- his playmaking ability, his leadership, his experience, his ability to get people around him to play better, both by his communication and anticipation and football savvy on the field. Those two guys, it would be really hard to even put anybody in their class, let alone above them. They're tremendous players, tremendous careers. Can't say I've ever [coached] against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary."
2. Matt Light gets his due. Asked about the performance of veteran left tackle Matt Light, Belichick said he's had an "outstanding year." Then Belichick rounded out his thoughts to reflect on Light's 11-year career. "He's really had a great career for us," he said, referring to him as durable, dependable and always in good physical condition. "Matt goes up against some of the best pass rushers in the league at that position, really on a weekly basis. He'll certainly see another great player this weekend in [Terrell] Suggs."
3. Vince Wilfork's 'legendary' contributions. "He's been been huge. Vince has had a great year for us. He's obviously had a great career and I thought he had an outstanding year last year, but this year it's even gone a step higher. He's played a lot of plays. He's become really an every-down player, not just a situational player. He's been very productive for us in the running game and in the passing game, made plays in pursuit. And of course, his interceptions are legendary, as well as his runbacks. From a leadership standpoint, he's been outstanding."