FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots have it rolling as much as any team in the NFL, winners of eight straight games with a chance to clinch the AFC East with a victory on Monday night. But as is often the case, Bill Belichick sees plenty of room for improvement, and one area in particular doesn’t even involve X's and O's.
He wants to see players do a better job of keeping their composure.
"That's important for us every week. It's a competitive game. There's a lot of emotion out there. As the coach, I've got to do a better job of that," Belichick said.
As one player pointed out Wednesday, when Belichick offers up those types of words to reporters, the players are hearing something similar as well.
Things got a bit heated at times with the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago at Gillette Stadium (35-17 Patriots win), and of course, tight end Rob Gronkowski lost his cool in Sunday’s victory over the Buffalo Bills and delivered a late hit on cornerback Tre'Davious White that earned him a one-game suspension.
Now comes a return engagement with the Dolphins, this time in South Florida on ESPN's Monday Night Football, and players have received the message.
"It's going to be chippy," said safety Devin McCourty, one of the team's captains. "Just this time of year, everybody is playing for something. But I think the key is just us keeping our poise, understanding that we're trying to win a game Monday night and just trying to do whatever is best for the team and push us forward for us winning the game. I think that just has to be our focus.
"Whatever happens as long as the end goal for each individual on the field is to make sure the team wins at the end of the day, we'll usually be OK. I think that's always preached around here. That's always something we talk about. So I think we just keep pushing forward on that. Things happen out there. It is what it is but I think as long as we keep the goal of us trying to win and doing what our coaches always harp on us, 'do what's best for the team,' it usually works out well."
Veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch filed that approach into the "common sense" category.
"Sometimes things happen and you might lose your mind for a second," he said, "but I feel like everybody in this locker room is really good when it comes to that.
"Honestly, I just play the game. When it comes to all that other stuff, I usually laugh it off. I don't really get involved with all that chippiness or whatever is going on. I feel like I'm too old to get into that young man's mentality. It really doesn't affect me at all. It's about playing smart football and not letting reactions make us have bad decision-making."