FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick's title is head coach, but based on what unfolded in the New England Patriots' 27-17 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night at Gillette Stadium, it might be more accurate to alter it to "manager."
This was a Belichick special when it came to roster management.
The football itself wasn't always pretty and certainly not worth the full-price ticket (when is it in the preseason?), but if the goal is to have the Patriots best positioned for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener at Tennessee, then Belichick did what he had to do in not dressing 26 players, a group that included quarterback Tom Brady, receivers Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker, tight end Aaron Hernandez, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Don't blame Belichick for the lack of star power on display. The National Football League forced his hand on this one, scheduling the team's final three preseason games over a span of 10 days. So much for that focus on player safety, eh?
Obviously feeling that it was too much football in too short a time, not giving players the necessary time to recover between games, Belichick essentially split the squad into two parts.
Many of the players who dressed and saw extended action against the Eagles still had something to prove; they were either fighting for a roster spot or a move up the depth chart. A good number of those players won't play as much, if at all, on Friday night in Tampa in preseason game No. 3.
Meanwhile, some of the big names held out of Monday's action should be primed to hit the ground running in Tampa when the Patriots arrive late Tuesday, in advance of joint practices with the Buccaneers on Wednesday and Thursday before Friday's game. Belichick thinks the team can get a lot of the three-day stretch.
"We've got a quick turnaround this week with Tampa," Belichick said late Monday night. "These are days that we can, as a team, really learn a lot from these experiences."
Belichick told 98.5 The Sports Hub earlier Monday that he also likes the idea of the team practicing in the heat and humidity of Tampa because it should help prepare players for some of their early-season games, starting with the opener at Tennessee. The Titans' last three home openers have been played at 76 degrees (54 percent humidity), 77 degrees (45 percent humidity) and 77 degrees (83 percent humidity).
It's those types of details that give players such as veteran receiver Deion Branch, now in his seventh season playing under Belichick, the confidence that the right decisions are being made to put the team in position to be at its best when the games actually count. It's another example of how Belichick doesn't just coach X's and O's, but manages the 90-man roster.
"All that stuff comes with time and Coach is very experienced. In my eyes, he's the best coach in the league, to ever coach the game of football," said Branch, who played all four quarters Monday in a three-catch, 51-yard performance that likely solidified his standing as the club's No. 3 receiver. "He's been around a long time and he knows exactly when to push the guys and when to pull off. That's him at his best."
After Monday's game, Belichick prepped players that the accelerator is about to be pushed to the floor.
"We're just two games in, we've got two more, and it's all going to happen pretty fast and before you know it they're making cuts, more things are happening, and the regular season will start," Branch relayed. "Everything stems from this crazy preseason schedule we have."
On Monday, it might have seemed unusual to not see Brady on the sideline, but that was perhaps a directive from Belichick similar to 2008 when Matt Cassel was filling in (if Brady were on the sideline, it would have invited more media attention and potential distraction). Welker also was nowhere to be found, while other top players Wilfork, Mayo, tight end Rob Gronkowski and Lloyd were in uniform and stayed on the sideline.
It highlighted the unique dynamic of the night for the Patriots -- some players dressed and in action, others dressed but not playing, and others remaining fully in the background.
It's the classic Belichick push and pull, managing the 90-man roster with the season opener in mind. It will be here quickly.
"I'm sure he has it under control," Branch said. "I know he does. Nobody is worried about that part."