FOXBORO, MA — Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will have his first Sunday off this weekend as his team will sit through a bye as they prepare for their January 6th meeting against the Carolina Panthers. Carolina is hosting the Arizona Cardinals this weekend and you can bet Belichick will be watching that game this Sunday.
“I probably will [watch it],” said Belichick on Friday. “It is a unique opportunity. It is not one you get very often, but you can kind of take this week to prepare yourself for the game.”
“You can get some ideas in then watch the game and then analyze that and it really gives you a jump on the team.”
They may need it. Carolina may be 1-13, but they’ve improved quite a bit on both sides of the ball over the last five games. Defensively the team registered a total of 10 sacks through the first nine games of the season, in the last five games they have 15.
They’ve also become more efficient in the red zone on offense. In their last 20 trips they have come away with points, scoring 11 touchdowns and nine field goals. They also have gotten good production from rookie quarterback Chris Weinke. The former Heisman trophy winner has started 13-games and thrown for 2,564-yards, 10 TD’s and 15 interceptions. He also leads all NFL quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns with six.
But New England will have to wait another week before they find out just how well they’re going to match-up against a Carolina team that is much improved from the week two opponent that they would have been the first time around. Granted the same is true for the Patriots, but for now Belichick is focused on how he’s going to have to deal with what the Panthers will throw at him. He’ll have to prepare his players for a game that by the time it rolls around will have some sort of meaning to decide who and where they’ll be playing in round one of the postseason.
One thing is for certan, despite the break, he’s planning on have his team ready.
“[The schedule] is something I don’t have any control over,” said Belichick. “I am not going to worry about it. We’ve got things to do. we are going to work on those and be ready on January 6.”
“We have got the time, we are going to use it the best way we can, that’s what it is. There is nothing we can do about the schedule. The league made it. Don’t ask me about it, ask them why they did it this way. When we are supposed to play we will show up, we will be there.”
The good news is that with the time off, the Patriots will likely have most of their team healthy by the time next weekend rolls around. Belichick said on Friday that for the 53-players who he currently has on his roster, it may be the healthiest his team has been all season.
“I think we will have everybody out there working,” said Belichick. “You know there are some guys that we could moderate a little bit, but again I don’t think it’s necessarily good for guys not to do anything for seven, eight, nine days and then all of a sudden tee it back up and think it is going to be great. I mean if we really thought that was the way to do it then we should cancel a couple weeks of training camp and just show up for the opener and that kind of thing.”
“We’ve got a number of players that are obviously out and can’t play, but for the guys that are on the 53-man roster it’s as healthy as we’ve been probably all year, but certainly in quite a while.”
New England may have clinched a playoff berth, but the playoffs are the farthest thing from Belichick’s mind for now. The team has one game left, and his goal is simply to beat Carolina. The rest he says, will take care of itself.
“What we can do is have good practices, improve our football team in the next couple days, get ready for Carolina, go down there and try to play well against the Panthers.”
“That’s really all we can do. That’s what we are going to try to do.”