- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick held his standard day-after-game conference call on Saturday, and here were a few of the areas that caught our attention:
Following up on Jake Ballard. It was a meaningful night for tight end Jake Ballard, who returned to game action for the first time since undergoing serious knee surgery in 2012. He played 12 snaps, over the first two series of the game, and then his night was over. Belichick acknowledged that Ballard is still being managed health-wise. "It seemed to go well, so we’ll just continue to go along with both his input as to how he's progressing and our medical staff, in consultation with them, to continue to try to let him work his way back to maybe a more extended role than where he’s at now hopefully," he said. "But that will just have to take some time. We’ll continue to go through the process, but I thought he did well. He showed up positively on a number of plays."
Revisiting the Michael Vick-to-DeSean Jackson long touchdown. In trying to gain a better understanding of where the Patriots' defense might have broken down on DeSean Jackson's 47-yard touchdown reception (e.g. was it Steve Gregory at safety who got over late, could Aqib Talib have played it differently, etc.), Belichick was asked what coverage the defense was playing. He didn't get into specifics, but offered this: "As a defensive coach, there are times where you just have to give credit to the offense. That was a great throw -- perfectly thrown, great route by DeSean and the ball was as on the money as it could possibly be. Overall our defense wasn't good enough any time you give up a play like that but it was an exceptional play that we were close on, but obviously not close enough. There are things we need to do better -- coach better, play better -- but that was an excellent, outstanding play. It probably would have been a big play on a lot of different players or calls or anything else. It was just very well-executed."
Tommy Kelly and his 'long levers'. Belichick has liked having veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly on the club, touting his instincts, height and "long levers inside" even though at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds he's a different build than the 6-foot-2, 325-pound Vince Wilfork. Kelly teamed with Chandler Jones for a strip sack on the third series on Friday night. "Tommy’s been a really, really solid guy for us all the way through. Works hard, in early, stays late, does a lot of extra things, extra conditioning, things like that to really take care of himself and prepare for the game. I have a lot of respect for Tommy," Belichick said. "... He's been a great guy to work with. He's a very talented player. He's been an excellent teammate and team member since he's been here."
Don't forget the wideouts in the running game. When one thinks of a dominating rushing performance, the role of wide receivers usually isn't spotlighted. But Belichick specifically noted that area when discussing the Patriots' work in the run game Friday. "I thought the receivers did a good job of handling the secondary. That opened up a couple opportunities for us to get longer runs," he said. Rookie Aaron Dobson, in particular, looks strong in that area, and of course, tight end Zach Sudfeld's effort on LeGarrette Blount's 51-yard touchdown run -- helping clear the final 10 yards for Blount -- is the type of work that would make any coach smile.
Situations a good teaching tool. Belichick pointed out that the preseason opener presented more situations than normal for the club to learn from; things like being backed up in their own end zone, four fourth-down plays on defense, two-minute offense at the end of the half, and two-minute defense at the end of the half. "It was a real good teaching experience," he said.