FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Jim Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the NFL and had a distinct style when it came to the quarterback position. It’s a style that Patriots coach Bill Belichick sees in Harbaugh’s 49ers team that travels to New England for Sunday's prime-time contest.
“They’re physical, have an edge [and] I’d say he was a tough guy for a quarterback. I think his teams reflect that,” Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh has a “strong personality and they play that way -- aggressively with a good temperament.”
Belichick was asked if the two coaches had much of a connection over the years, and he relayed a story from Harbaugh’s tenure at Stanford (2007 to 2010) when Belichick called about some of the Cardinal players. Harbaugh was in his office with legendary Stanford and 49ers coach Bill Walsh at the time, and the conversation turned into a three-way chat.
The Belichick-Harbaugh connection was one of several topics Belichick touched on during his Friday news conference:
1. Special teams & Gosselin respect. Belichick noted that the 49ers were the top special-teams unit in 2011, and an interested reporter asked the coach by what metric that was the case. Belichick cited the annual rankings by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, which was obviously a reflection of Belichick’s respect for Gosselin’s work.
2. Welker nearing milestone. Belichick was asked about receiver Wes Welker, who is nearing the NFL record for 100-catch seasons (5). Welker needs five receptions to accomplish the feat. “I think it says the most about his dependability and durability; that’s a lot of catches for a lot of years," Belichick said of Welker. "To be able to go out there and do it week after week, against all the different coverages and all the different matchups that we see and all that, it’s a real credit to Wes’ ability but also his toughness and durability. He’s taken a lot of hits out there. Our slot receivers, historically – Troy Brown, Wes – they’ve always caught a lot of balls. He’s caught a lot for a long time, and returned kicks for us at times. And blocks. He’s a tough kid. He’s in there on a lot of plays; it’s not all catches. He’s in there blocking in the running game – he had a big block on Ridley’s touchdown last week.”
3. Not seeing a lot of hurry-up vs. 49ers. The Patriots’ hurry-up attack has been lethal at times this season, and Belichick was asked how he’s seen the 49ers’ defense react to that type of approach in 2012. “I wouldn’t say there is a lot of that they’ve seen – some, but not a whole lot,” Belichick said, adding that the Patriots don’t always play with a fast pace but use it when they feel it gives them an advantage. Perhaps that's an area the Patriots will explore on Sunday.