Milestone win is vintage Belichick

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As they always do after a game, win or loss, New England Patriots players gathered in the middle of the locker room late Thursday night to hear some closing remarks from head coach Bill Belichick. Only this time there was a twist.
It wasn't Belichick who first addressed the players. Instead, it was owner Robert Kraft taking center stage.

"It was a great moment in here," relayed safety Steve Gregory, who watched as Kraft presented Belichick a game ball for earning his 200th career victory as a head coach, the result coming in convincing fashion with a 49-19 blasting of the rival New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

"We're all in this together. We're like a family in here. So any time one of our guys gets to accomplish something amazing, it's good to be around him and we're excited for that person."

On Thanksgiving night, players said Kraft talked about how thankful he was for Belichick, now in his 13th season in New England, as he became just the eighth coach in NFL history to hit the 200-win mark. In turn, Belichick told everyone in the room how thankful he was to lead them.

Sometimes it all just comes together and this was one of those nights. It was a signature Belichick-type win, as the defining on-field moment came early in the second quarter when the Patriots scored three touchdowns in a span of 52 seconds, the points coming in all three phases of the game.

How many times have we heard Belichick say that? The preacher of complementary football -- offense, defense and special teams -- had to be proud as he watched running back Shane Vereen's 83-yard catch-and-run touchdown, followed by safety Steve Gregory's 32-yard fumble return, and then Julian Edelman's 22-yard fumble return on the ensuing kickoff.

At that point, after a scoreless first quarter, the rout was on and MetLife Stadium was stunned as the Jets -- who at 4-6 were playing for their season -- folded. Everything Belichick stands for was weaved into those 52 seconds, so it was only fitting that his milestone win came in such fashion.

The result also required another Belichick trademark -- mental toughness. This was a challenging spot for the Patriots, playing two games in five days, and in this one, adjusting to life without one of their top offensive players in injured tight end Rob Gronkowski. Because of the physical toll, the Patriots didn't hold a practice leading into the game, just classroom work.

Again, the coach who demands a steel-minded focus from his players and who believes in the "next man up" -- something he drills into them from the first day of training camp -- had to be proud.

"I think this team takes after Coach Belichick," said defensive back Devin McCourty, one of the club's captains. "We play hard and we play the way we play because we have a great coach and a coach that believes in us. Every day you get the same thing from him -- hard working, attention to detail. You're never going to come to work and not get that Bill. It's his attitude, dedication and devotion to just being great and winning."

For all the media-based and public criticism directed at Belichick in recent weeks -- specifically his struggles to put together a stronger defense and using starters on special teams -- those units were instrumental in back-to-back blowout victories in a span of five days. The Patriots had five turnovers against the Jets (four fumble recoveries, one interception) and four against the Colts (one fumble recovery, three interceptions), while special teams also produced two touchdowns (68-yard punt return, 32-yard fumble return).

The turnovers are a huge part of the Patriots' identity, and of course, it helps to have a quarterback like Tom Brady, who was stellar Sunday against Indianapolis, and after a rocky first quarter turned it on Thursday night. The Patriots now have an NFL-best plus-24 turnover differential, which is simply off the charts.

They are opportunistic. They are playing smart and tough. They are one of the most physical teams in the NFL.

If it looks familiar, especially at this time of year, it's because we've seen this script before. These are the characteristics of a Belichick-coached team.

"There's no coach I'd ever want to play for than him," said Brady, who finished 18-of-28 for 323 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Thursday's rout. "He's so consistent and as players, I think we really appreciate him. And even though he's tough and he's disciplined, that's what we need and that's the way our program is run.

"He expects us to play to at a high level every week, he has high expectations in practice every day, and I think that that's what you look for in a coach: someone that gets the best out of all the players that he coaches. He certainly does that."

Several players said they weren't aware of Belichick's milestone until Kraft acknowledged it after the game. Belichick kept it short in the locker room. It wasn't like there was overflowing emotion.

"He doesn't change much," McCourty said, smiling. "That's just how he is."

For many of the players in the locker room, that's precisely what they appreciate about him.

"I think he has a genuine love for this game and respect for it," said special teams captain Matthew Slater, whose father, Jackie Slater, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. "When I was a youngster, my dad always told me that you have to respect the game. There is no better man to give you an example of that than Coach Belichick. He loves this game, he respects this game, he approaches it the right way, and I think that was reflected in his 200th win."

Belichick acknowledged the milestone publicly when asked in his postgame news conference, deflecting credit to the players.

"It's been a privilege and a great opportunity to coach the players that won those games," Belichick said, shortly after sharing an embrace with family members and friends. "I didn't make a block, didn't make a tackle, throw a pass, kick a ball. The players win them, but it's an honor to coach the group of players that really go out there to make the plays and win those games. That's the way it was [tonight].

"The players went out there and made the plays and they deserve the win. It's a privilege to coach this team, for Mr. Kraft, the Kraft family, the Patriots organization and the players that are on it. It's nice, but it's really more of a reflection of what the players have done. They win them."

It's true, to a degree. But the way the Patriots throttled the Jets, and the Colts five days earlier, reflected something else too.

There is a certain trademark that usually comes with a Bill Belichick-coached team, and it's what has impressively been on display in back-to-back blowout wins.

They're doing it in all three phases of the game; with mental toughness; starters playing on special teams; an opportunistic, hard-hitting defense; and a balanced, explosive offense.

It's Belichick-type football.

It's winning football.