How will Bill Belichick prepare the Patriots to play the Bills? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Damar Hamlin situation shook the NFL world this week and undoubtedly impacted the mental state of players across the league. It was a harsh reminder of the risks that come with playing the violent sport of football.
Nonetheless, coaches are tasked with getting their players ready to suit up and play to the best of their abilities in Week 18. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has the unique duty to prepare his players for a game against Hamlin's team, the Buffalo Bills, that could decide their playoff fate.
At this point, the status of Sunday's Patriots-Bills matchup is up in the air. NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent wouldn't rule out its postponement. But until an announcement is made, Belichick and the Patriots must approach the week as they would any other.
How will Belichick go about getting his players in the right mindset for their crucial game against the Bills? Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry, and Matt Cassel discussed on a new episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast.
"He'll be cognizant about not making this moment about his team," Perry said. "And so, while players are dealing with it inside of the building at Gillette Stadium -- and I've been told it's been tough for players these last couple days -- I think Belichick will be really aware of the fact that number one, their thoughts are with Hamlin and with his family and the Bills. But number two, this game is in all likelihood going to be played. My guess is they have to function as if it will be played because it's on the schedule, and they have to function as though unless something changes before Sunday, all indications are we have to be ready to play a football game.
"It's obviously incredibly unfortunate what the Bills are dealing with, and who knows if they'll be ready and willing to play on Sunday afternoon. But I think if you're Bill Belichick and the Patriots, you have to balance the fact that on the one hand, you have to make sure your players are feeling mentally healthy and emotionally healthy and spiritually healthy. ... But at the same time if you're Bill Belichick, you have to get ready for a football game as well."
Curran says Belichick will need to tread the fine line of showing empathy for his players while getting them back into the violent mindset that is necessary to participate in professional football.
"That's the essence of it is, 'OK, we just had a great talk. That was good. Pat on the shoulder. Hug. Now go onto the field and hit that guy hard, and make sure he goes down when you hit him. And play with a level of aggression that is suitable for National Football League play, in which the essence of the game is violence and impact,' Curran said. "It is a dichotomy and we are ignoring that fact to a large extent this week when we do talk about these aspects of the game and being sensitive to the mental health. Because the next step is, "You good? You OK? Now do that. Hard. Because we've got to win.'"
Cassel shared his thoughts from a player perspective, noting that it's imperative for players to operate at 100 percent mentally.
"It's a critical game and this is what we do for a living. This is what we signed up for," Cassel said. "There's injuries and it's a violent sport and you get hit, and you understand that going in. This circumstance is outside the realm of what any of us ever experienced because it's the human side of it and it's also a life-or-death situation. We've seen horrific injuries, we've seen head injuries, we've seen guys blow out their ACLs, I've seen guys dislocate their ankles, and we've moved on. ... And then when you see something like that, it kind of hits home because of the nature of the injury and also the life-or-death situation which we don't really encounter a lot when we're out on the football field until after we're done playing.
"But at the end of the day, when you go onto the football field, if you're not going 100 percent then you risk more injury, and guys understand that. So when they get out there on Sunday, it's got to be 100 percent and you've got to play to your full capacity because otherwise, you're putting yourself at risk, you're putting your teammates at risk, and you probably shouldn't be playing at that point."
Also discussed in the episode: Buffalo Bills release positive update on Damar Hamlin. Reaction to Kayvon Thibodeaux’s celebration next to Nick Foles. The leadership impact of Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty. And a Patriots-Bills preview