Preseason brings conflicting emotions

Like a nose tackle and center at the heart of the line of scrimmage, two forces were colliding during the New England Patriots' 36-35 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Thursday.

First, there was Bill Belichick. One snapshot of the Patriots' coach on the sideline, and then after the game when fielding questions from reporters, said it all. He was fuming.

But why was he so upset?

After all, it seems every day there is a reminder to not read too much into these preseason games; that they aren't an accurate representation of what will happen when the season kicks off for real in a few weeks. Maybe the best example is the 0-16 Detroit Lions from the 2008 season. They were 4-0 in the preseason that year.

In New England over the past two days, these were the two colliding forces -- a disappointed Belichick and a meaningless preseason game. Belichick was still sullen on Friday evening.

"I'm disappointed in the whole game," he explained on a conference call with reporters. "Regardless of how the last kick turned out, whether it was good or not good, that's really not the point. I don't think we did things as well as we are capable of doing them, so that part is disappointing.

"When your team doesn't do that, it doesn't make you feel very good as a coach. And when your team doesn't perform well, that's a reflection on the coaching and how the coaches feel."

The Patriots have had winless preseasons under Belichick and still had success, such as 2008, when they were 0-4 before turning in an 11-5 regular-season campaign. In their Super Bowl 2004 season, they got smoked by the Bengals and Jaguars as part of an uninspiring 1-3 preseason.

On the flip side, things had been looking good in 2002, a 3-1 preseason building momentum into a regular season that would later turn sour; the club finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

As the longest tenured head coach in the NFL, Belichick was asked what he's noticed when it comes to preseason performances correlating to the regular season.

"I think the way your team develops its fundamentals and its foundation in the early part of training camp and the preseason definitely is important in the big picture," he responded. "If it wasn't, we wouldn't do it. That being said, there are certainly a lot of unknowns going into the season. It's preseason, not the regular season, but you want to see things done well and [Thursday] wasn't a great example of that."

Of all the struggles Thursday, the play of Patriots cornerbacks and safeties stood out most. The group accounted for four penalties, two of which were declined, and they weren't consistently competitive coverage-wise. Part of it might have been tied to the team trying a three-safety substitution package for the first time this preseason.

Testing such new ideas is part of what the preseason is for, and that's why there is no major cause for alarm. From the sound of it, the Patriots didn't spend too much time studying the Rams, instead already focusing on their Week 1 opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, and how they can match up best with them.

"In preseason, you don't want to show your hand," linebacker Jerod Mayo said.

That's why analyzing preseason performance is especially tricky, and why Belichick's reaction to Thursday's turn of events was telling.

The games don't count. Yet it certainly seemed like they did to one commanding coach.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.