FRANKFURT, Germany — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Belichick’s warm welcome: Under fire at home, Patriots coach Bill Belichick received a warm welcome from international media members leading up to Sunday’s game against the Colts at Frankfurt Stadium (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network).
The contrast was striking, both in Belichick’s demeanor and the delivery of questions, as media coverage of American football takes on a different tone here.
“To have arguably the greatest coach of all-time in the flesh, and also considering what he’s done for the sport, it was amazing to have him here in Europe,” said Skye Pank, who hosts “The Franchise Tag” podcast out of London. “He seemed to be in good spirits, really embraced the questions in the room. It was an honor for anyone who is a fan of the sport.”
Back home, the questions to Belichick have been more pointed with the 2-7 team and in last place in the AFC. There are other hot-button topics such as a team decision to leave cornerback J.C. Jackson home because of disciplinary reasons, offensive tackle Trent Brown not making the trip to Frankfurt because of personal reasons, and cornerback Jack Jones missing curfew last Saturday and having his playing time reduced last week as a result of it — which create optics that not everyone is fully on board.
Belichick wasn’t spared questions about that upon the team’s arrival in Germany and did what he usually does in those situations by deflecting them. That wasn’t lost on Pank, who took note of Belichick’s mostly friendly responses to international media members, some of whom wore team-specific apparel, welcomed him to town and referred to him as “Mr. Belichick.”
“I’ve watched so many of his press conferences, and I think he enjoyed some of the softer questions,” Pank said.
One question that produced a notable answer came from Nadia Quast, a former German football player who now hosts podcasts and blogs on the sport.
“I had written a story in the past about the age of coaches in the NFL, and how many were over 50, and of course you have Coach Belichick and his career. So I thought it was a great opportunity to ask him about his experience and how it feels to have six [Super Bowl] trophies,” she said. “It was fun to see him smile and laugh and joke around a little. I was surprised.”
Belichick, 71, poked fun at the longevity of his career, but also shared insight into how he views the job, even in the midst of one of his most challenging seasons.
“I enjoy all aspects of it,” he said. “The preparation, the team building, the competitiveness on Sundays, the guys that I work with — the staff, the players. It’s a great environment. The ownership. Everybody works together to a common goal. It beats working.”
Germany brings out the smile in Bill Belichick … he seemed to enjoy this news conference. pic.twitter.com/OFndZ8EUnQ
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) November 10, 2023
Belichick didn’t sound like a coach planning on stopping any time soon, and his reference to ownership being part of what he enjoys — perhaps a coincidence — comes at a time when many are wondering how Robert Kraft views Belichick’s future as the team’s coach. The Patriots’ owner, after all, had said in March that making the playoffs was important to him.
Usually standing behind a dais, Belichick instead was sitting down in the middle of a long table inside the German national soccer team’s sparkling media workroom. It was almost Ted Lasso-like, as he arrived with a smile and asked if the Patriots might be able to duplicate the setup at Gillette Stadium and if soft pretzels were being served for lunch.
In another notable moment, longtime German Patriots blogger Dennis Briege told Belichick he’s been following the team for 23 years and had never seen him laugh so much.
“I think Germany is good for you,” Briege told him.
Belichick flashed a smile and laughed before saying: “Love visiting Germany. I’ve been here a couple times and it’s a great country. People are great. Beautiful. Friendly. Thank you. Appreciate your hospitality.”
2. Trent’s losses: When the Patriots don’t have Brown starting at left tackle, as will be the case Sunday, it also costs Brown in the wallet. He misses out on an $88,235 per-game roster bonus and it also lessens the amount he can earn in playing-time incentives as part of his recently upgraded contract. He’s currently played 75% of the snaps (a number that will decrease after Sunday’s absence) and his contract called for him to earn the following at each step he hits:
93% or Pro Bowl original ballot: $750K
3. J.C.’s accountability: Jackson wasn’t just late for curfew last week, the cornerback didn’t show up at the team hotel at all, according to a source familiar with Belichick’s thinking on the decision to leave him behind for the team’s trip to Germany. Jackson also didn’t take part in pregame warmups last week, making it puzzling that he ultimately played 53 snaps in the loss to the Commanders. Belichick said he expects Jackson to be available moving forward, but how Jackson responds remains a wild card.
4. Jones’ demotion: Cornerback Jack Jones had a reduced role last week after missing curfew, but unlike Jackson, he eventually showed up, according to a source. Jones, who popped up on the injury report Friday (knee, questionable), has the support of teammate Jabrill Peppers. “He’s responded. We’re all grown men. He took it like a man,” Peppers said. “He knows what we expect from him. He knows what the team expects from him. We expect that we’ll get that from him. We handled it. It’s behind us now.”
5. Ambassador role: Matthew Slater — the Patriots’ longest tenured player in his 16th season — on playing the franchise’s fourth-ever international regular-season game (two in London, one in Mexico) on Sunday in Frankfurt: “I think back to my dad’s playing career, and not for one minute did I ever think a team would fly to Europe and play games. It’s been remarkable to see the growth of our game. At the end of the day, we all love the game and want to see it thrive and be successful. And we want to share it with the world.”
6. Saturday sightseeing: Patriots players and coaches had a few hours to explore Frankfurt on Saturday. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster were among those to take advantage of the unique opportunity.
Feel from Frankfurt: Bumping into Jahlani Tavai (with family) and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who appreciate the uniqueness of Römer. pic.twitter.com/2E8ciB5GnL
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) November 11, 2023
7. Mills’ pregame attire: Patriots safety Jalen Mills was lamenting that he agreed to wear a University of Alabama shirt with teammate Anfernee Jennings’ name on the back to Sunday’s game. But that’s the price of a friendly agreement between the two over who would win last week in a game between Mills’ alma mater LSU and Jennings’ alma mater Alabama. Alabama won 42-28.
8. Seeing yellow? Scouting officials is part of the Patriots’ weekly preparation, and that is especially notable this week with Tra Blake’s crew assigned to work the Patriots-Colts game. Blake’s crew is tied for the league lead with Alex Kemp’s crew in averaging 17.4 penalties called per game.
9. Did you know? — Part I: The Patriots’ minus-93 point differential through nine games is their worst since 1992 when they were minus-122.
10. Did you know — Part II: Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Colts is the first since Week 2 of 1998 that both teams entered with a losing record. That breaks a streak of 27 games.