BOSTON (CBS) – Twenty-eight other NFL teams were at work on Wednesday, preparing for the 14 games that constitute Week 10 of the 2013 schedule. The New England Patriots weren’t among them.
The Pats had adjourned the previous afternoon in anticipation of their first weekend off since the start of preseason. As 7-2 leaders of the AFC East, their much-appreciated bye arrives at a most opportune time, considering the season-long spate of injuries they’ve had to overcome.
But while the Patriots sit idle, they aren’t exactly silent. Not when so much of what was said during last Sunday’s 55-31 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers is being broadcast by the great storytellers of NFL Films.
Bill Belichick wore a microphone — or, to coin a more popular phrase these days, was ‘mic’d up’ — during the latest of his 212 victories as an NFL head coach. And in the last 72 hours or so, excerpts of his in-game instruction and observations have been heard on shows like “Inside The NFL,” “NFL Turning Point” and “Sound FX.”
Admittedly, I’ve been fascinated by the work of NFL Films since I was old enough as a young child to spend Sundays with shows like “This is the NFL” and “This Week in the NFL.” More than a bit bashfully, I disclose that my geekiness goes much farther than a Steve Grogan-to-Stanley Morgan spiral caught on 8mm and described poetically by the late John Facenda.
The 10-CD set, “Autumn Thunder,” containing 40 years of NFL Films music, is part of a listening library reflecting eclectic tastes that range from classical composers (i.e., Mozart) to classic composers (i.e., Sam Spence).
Though already a fan, I truly became enamored by the Bailey’s-smooth and bourbon-rich baritone of the great Gil Santos while repeatedly watching “3 Games to Glory.” And once blessed with the opportunity to follow Gil into our Gillette Stadium booth, a stamp of professional validation was the first sound of my voice set to an NFL Films soundtrack.
Just last week I finally got around to watching “A Football Life” documentary on the late Steve Sabol that I’d recorded to my DVR. Sabol was the visionary who with his father and NFL Films founder, Ed, mythologized legends of the fall by looking at their game through the eyes of artists.
Of course, I’ve learned that much of what we experience in every NFL Films production — the extreme closeups of players breathing steam into cold air, the dramatic scores suited for Hollywood blockbusters, etc. — should be valued strictly for entertainment. But that doesn’t make any of it less intriguing; or much of it less instructional.
Watching the various Patriots- and Belichick-themed segments this week wasn’t just entertaining; it was informative. Being able to eavesdrop as the defense made sideline adjustments, for example, one gained great insight into New England’s strategy against Ben Roethlisberger.
Time and again, Belichick warned Patriot defenders to keep the Pittsburgh quarterback in the pocket, even as they pushed to collapse it. Their objective was to prevent Roethlisberger from rolling away from pressure and improvising, thereby turning seemingly broken plays into big ones.
At one point, we hear the pass-rush being fine tuned. Steelers center Fernando Velasco is holding his own, Belichick tells interior linemen, before advising them to attack Pittsburgh’s struggling guards.
In another instance, he warns of a bootleg by Roethlisberger. At still another moment, speaking into his coach’s headset, Belichick asks defensive coordinator Matt Patricia: “Do you want to bring it on this guy?” Presumably, he is agreeable to a blitz call.
Roethlisberger still passed for 400 yards and four scores. But he also was sacked five times, fumbled to end a promising series and threw two interceptions that led to short-field touchdown drives for the Patriots.
Even those uncomfortable with any portrayal of Belichick as a sideline mastermind can appreciate one particular cut from Sound FX. It occurs after a Steelers score. The (parenthetic) words are mine, not his.
“(Darn) it!” Belichick reacts. “That’s my fault. I (screwed) that up.”
There are also two other short — no pun intended — exchanges about members of the Red Sox in attendance for a pre-game ceremony to honor their World Series title.
One is between Belichick and the 6-foot-4 Tom Brady.
“They must be going, ‘Geez, these guys are huge!’” Brady jokes of the smaller-statured baseball players.
“They’re so little,” Belichick agrees, his own height more closely resembling an outfielder than outside linebacker.
The other takes place between the head coach and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, himself a few inches shy of your average NFL player. As you may know, I write that as someone built to look Dustin Pedroia in the eye, as opposed to, say, Chandler Jones.
“It’s unbelievable,” McDaniels laughs. “(Shane) Victorino is like 20 pounds lighter than (Danny) Amendola.”
It’s a little light stuff to go with heavier football insights. And it’s all there, on TV and the web.
The Patriots may be out of sight in Week 10’s lineup of games. But thanks to the cameras and microphones of NFL Films, they don’t have to stay out of mind.
Bob Socci is in his first season as the radio play-by-play voice of the New England Patriots. You can follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.