By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Chargers are one of only six teams in the AFC that the Patriots can look down on in the standings. But that didn’t stop Bill Belichick from really buttering these guys up for Sunday.
Belichick must have a new love for basting after Thanksgiving weekend, because the flattery was flowing all over the L.A. roster on Wednesday when the Patriots head coach delivered his opening statement. It’s nothing new for Belichick to praise the week’s opponent – perhaps even over-praise them, which is arguably the case with the 3-8 Chargers. But this felt more like a classic Belichick Jedi mind trick.
The most striking comments came on Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who has compiled 7.5 sacks and 23 quarterback hits in just nine games this season. There’s no question that Bosa has become a premier pass-rusher in the NFL. But wow, does Belichick think the Patriots will hold him to less than 19 sacks?
“Starting defensively, Bosa’s one of the most disruptive players in the league, as good as anybody we play against, run or pass,” Belichick said. “He’s got a great motor, very strong hands, good instincts. He just makes a lot of disruptive plays. Most of the time it’s him making the play, but a lot of times it’s him screwing the play up and forcing the ball to somebody else. He’s definitely a guy to stop.
“This is really a well coached defense, led by Bosa but with several other good players in there as well. They play good team defense.”
Asked a follow-up on Bosa that referenced his game last week against the Bills, Belichick started: “Yeah, I’ll say, it’s a one-man wrecking crew.”
Belichick wasn’t limited to just Bosa, though. He’d be remiss if he didn’t pump the tires of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, who is 11th in the NFL with a 100.9 passer rating in nine starts.
“Offensively, the quarterback’s been outstanding,” Belichick said. “He’s throwing the ball well, made a lot of good decisions. They’ve got great skill players. [Keenan] Allen, obviously, their leading receiver. He’s got a lot of targets, lot of production. The Chargers are very good on third-and-long, which I think says something about their ability to throw the ball when everybody knows they have to throw it.”
Can’t help but read this as: “Your decisions have really been outstanding, kid. Especially on third-and-long. Don’t be afraid to chuck it up there. You can do it.”
How about tight end Hunter Henry? Not only has Belichick been a huge fan of Henry since his high school days, he sounds like maybe he wants Henry to be a Patriot when he hits free agency next March?
“Henry continues to be a complete and very, very good football player for them,” Belichick said. “Henry’s really been a great player. I’ve watched him pretty much his whole career. He started at Pulaski academy down at Little Rock, played for coach [Kevin] Kelley down there, had a great career there, went to Arkansas, had a great career at Arkansas, went to the Chargers.
“With [Virgil] Green out he’s really played the ‘Y’ role this year, and shown good ability to block, catch. He runs a variety of routes. He’s come back off the injury and has been a very, very productive player for them – along with all their other skill players, but he’s done a good job for them in the running game as well as the passing game.”
You WILL fumble the ball away.” via GIPHY
You’d think Bill shouldn’t lay it on so thick. But if the Patriots offer Henry a competitive deal and bring him aboard next offseason, it sounds like Belichick would have a player he’s wanted to work with for a long time. To be fair, Henry has proven to be one of the league’s better combo tight ends when healthy and he’d immediately be the Pats’ No. 1 option.
“What, did you want Bill to say they suck?!” (Just mentioning that for the folks who poop out their snarky comments without reading.) Of course Belichick should praise the opponent, if he’s going to say anything. And he’s not exactly wrong because they have been playing well individually. But when it’s as effusive as it was with the Chargers on Wednesday, it’s hard not to feel like it’s a Belichickian trap. His own way of trying to psych them out.
Worth noting: Bosa’s Chargers are 0-2 in his career against the Patriots, including a 41-28 laugher in the 2018 AFC divisional round. Bosa was a non-factor in their playoff meeting, logging just one assisted tackle as Tom Brady got rid of the ball too quickly for him to ever make an impact as a pass-rusher.
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Will it be different now, with Cam Newton at QB for the Patriots? J.J. Watt made an impact against the Patriots for what felt like the first time ever in Houston two weeks ago. Belichick and Brady-run offenses historically contained singular pass-rushing threats off the edge, but with Newton under center, protection has become way more unpredictable.
So Belichick may have simply taken the opportunity to firehose some sunshine up Bosa’s rear. And might as well pump up Herbert, too, make him feel invincible. Because winning the turnover battle and protecting the quarterback could be paramount for the Patriots to score a win. Belichick knows he can’t let those two beat him and they won’t win with coaching, so it’s going to come down to how the best players play.
Might as well throw some mind games into the mix.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at email@example.com.