It is one of Bill Belichick’s oft-repeated, catch-all lines to dismiss any question about any decision he has made as head coach of the New England Patriots. Benching a player. Going for it on fourth-and-long. Whatever.
We do what we feel is best for the football team.
Belichick’s dismissive defiance has always been a strength. He does everything his way. He explains only what he wants to explain. He keeps everyone — from his players to his staff to the fans — on edge.
It has served him well. He has won six Super Bowls.
Yet here in Year 28 as a head coach, the 70-year-old finds himself in a swirl of confusion over his quarterback situation that can’t easily be brushed aside with curt media appearances or cushioned with a win-loss record, or even the promise of the win-loss record.
Last spring, team owner Robert Kraft said that it “bothers me that we haven’t been able to win a playoff game in the last three years.” He better get ready for a fourth, because this team is in last place in the AFC East and has shown no reason to believe this is the post-Tom Brady season that it gets turned around.
Belichick doesn’t even sound convincing at this point, certainly not after he claims he entered the Bears game with the specific plan to play two quarterbacks — Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe.
“We did what we thought was best for the team,” Belichick said Tuesday morning, and if he actually believed that then he wasn’t saying why he thought the long-rejected concept of Quarterback Roulette was suddenly a good idea.
The old adage is if you have two QBs then you have none (or none that are any good). Occasionally desperate college teams platoon at the position, but that’s either because they have one guy who can throw and one guy who can run or they don’t want a young talent to transfer.
None of that applied to the Patriots. In the NFL, where there is a paucity of practice reps, conventional wisdom is that there isn’t time to prepare two quarterbacks for a single game. A bumbled second quarter handoff by Zappe could serve as evidence of that.
Still, this was apparently the plan.
Jones, the second-year player out of Alabama who was returning from a high ankle sprain, started and played the first three series. He was 3-for-6 and had his last attempt intercepted.
In came Bailey Zappe, the rookie from Western Kentucky, who oversaw two quick touchdown drives but then struggled, tossing two picks and losing that fumble.
Jones never got back in because, Belichick said, the game was out of hand — “I didn’t want to put him in that position.” However, the first two drives of the second half, New England trailed only 23-14 and then 26-14. The game was still very competitive, especially against the lowly Bears.
Zappe stayed in and oversaw two three-and-outs.
Belichick said after the game that the decision to pull Jones was neither performance- nor health-based. Jones added that he felt fine. Belichick countered on Tuesday that it was “hypothetical” how Jones would feel for “70 plays” but then again, considering the violence of the game, that is the case for all players.
“I told the quarterbacks that we were going to play both of them, and that’s what we did,” Belichick said Monday.
For his part, Jones said that Belichick told him that both he and Zappe would play — “I think Coach Belcihick had a really good plan for us.” Zappe said he prepared as if he would play, mainly through mental reps.
On Tuesday, Belichick told WEEI he also told multiple “team leaders” about the plan.
Inside the postgame locker room, however, Mark Daniels of MassLive.com reported seeing veteran players coming up and commiserating with Jones over the situation — getting pulled quickly after one interception as the crowd chanted for Zappe. Others expressed surprise.
“No, we weren’t aware,” running back Rhamondre Stevenson told MassLive.
“I would say it’s a shock,” wide receiver Jakobi Myers added.
That’s the team’s best running back and wide receiver, who presumably would be players who should know.
"It was the best thing to do based on the situation," Belichick said of the change.
Reporter: What was the situation?
"The whole situation," Belichick said.
Who is going to be the starter Sunday when the Patriots visit the New York Jets? Belichick said he doesn't know.
He also didn’t address whether it’s possible to prepare two QBs, let alone young ones, for a game. He never explained why this time, the plan was to do something counter to what essentially every coach in football, including Belichick for three decades, does. He kept saying everyone, including himself, needs to do better.
“In the end, all we try to do is what is best for the team,” Belichick said.
For confused fans — and even players — that might have to be enough for now.
Bill Belichick isn’t changing his ways and isn’t explaining anything, even if the record isn’t what it once was.