The Los Angeles Chargers pulled out a thrilling 23-17 win against the Baltimore Ravens, packed up their bags, boarded their plane and flew over five hours back home to Los Angeles.
They didn’t arrive at Hoag Performance Center until a little before 11:00 p.m. PST/2:00 a.m. EST.
Meanwhile, out in New England, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was busy this entire time watching tape and building out his game plan to beat the Bolts.
On Monday, Belichick was peppered with questions from the media both in New England and via a conference call in L.A. in which he was asked nonstop about the Chargers. In particular, they wanted to know his thoughts on the team’s high-powered offense.
The future Hall of Fame coach is known for his no-nonsense approach, yet he had a ton to say about the Bolts.
First things first, Belichick couldn’t help but gush over Philip Rivers, explaining why he has great admiration for the quarterback.
“I have a ton of respect for Phil,” he said. “We’ve had an opportunity to spend a little time together. I think he’s a very, very smart person that understands football. Very inquisitive. Knows a lot of what’s going on, not just on his team, but studies other offenses, other teams around the league and defenses. Can put it all together. Understands how to attack and how teams try to defend in this league. I’ve had some great conversations with him, really enjoyed my time with him at the Pro Bowl and was very impressed by his knowledge of the game.… He was a joy to be around and to coach and to have the opportunity to interact with.”
Of course, it goes without saying he has the utmost respect for Rivers’ physical talents as well.
“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a good arm,” he said. “He sees the field well. He’s got a very good ability to see the coverage, see the entire field, find the matchups and get the ball where he wants to get it to. If the defense takes something away, he quickly can get his eyes to what the next progression is and make good, quick, decisive decisions. I’ve always been impressed with that.”
The Chargers are as deep as any team in the league when it comes to the offensive weapons, and they’re primed to get another important one back in the fold on Sunday as the team activated Hunter Henry.
This will mark the tight end’s first action in over a year, yet Belichick is expecting him to perform like he missed no time at all.
“We'll prepare for him like we always do,” he said. “How they utilize him - that'll be up to them, but he's a very talented player. He's got great receiving skills. He's a threat in the passing game to go along with their other threats in the passing game at receiver, tight end and running back. It gives them another weapon with a great quarterback who can use all of his weapons at all of the positions. Yeah, it's another brick on the pile that we'll have to deal with.”
At the same time, Belichick stressed how the Pats must account for another one of the Bolts’ tight ends.
After all, even at 38 years old, Antonio Gates is still finding ways to make a major impact on Sundays.
Just look at the team’s win over the Ravens.
Gates tied for the team-lead with four catches, which were good for 35 yards. He also hauled in a key one-handed snare for a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 to jumpstart what proved to be the Bolts’ lone touchdown drive on the day.
“He’s had an incredible career,” Belichick remarked. “He’s still so hard to cover. He’s got very good quickness, obviously great hands. Very good quickness at the top of his routes. He creates separation and can use his size and his length and his hands. He’s never covered, really. No matter where the defender is, there’s a place where you can put the ball where he can get it and the defender can’t. Philip does a real good job of placing the ball there, and Gates can certainly shield the defenders off and make big plays. He’s an athletic guy and can always play for a few extra yards or make somebody miss with his quickness. He’s quicker than what you think he is, and is a very athletic guy. He’s had a tremendous, tremendous career. I’ll be glad when he hangs them up. We won’t have to cover him.”
Finally, while the Pats have their hands full containing the Chargers’ aerial attack, Belichick noted it doesn’t get any easier against the run having to face Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler.
However, when asked about the dynamic duo, Belichick stressed how integral a role they play in the passing game.
“If you take away the deeper guys then (Rivers) uses his outlet receivers very well, and both Gordon and Ekeler are very good with the ball in their hands,” he said. “They've both had several long runs where they've caught the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage and gone for 60, 70-yard touchdowns where they've run through the whole team. Those plays can't be taken lightly because they can be very explosive…. We'll have to handle everybody. Whatever the matchup is, each guy will have to hold up on that part of the matchup. It'll be very challenging. Again, those two guys are very different but they're both very productive, and they're both utilized effectively in the passing game no matter which one is in there.”
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