By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick rarely shows a strong opinion when pressed by the media, about anything. But there’s always the occasion that he opens up on “sad commentary” when he feels his team or one of his players had been wronged. The Patriots head coach went to bat for cornerback Cyrus Jones in his Friday press conference when asked about the rookie’s rough day handling kickoff returns against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4.
Jones misplayed his first two kick returns of the game in the Patriots’ 16-0 shutout loss at Gillette Stadium, first hesitating on the opening kickoff before being downed at the 9-yard line and again attempting a return on his next time receiving the ball before being tackled at the 14-yard line. Jones has also fumbled the ball on two kick returns in 2016, but has yet to lose one.
When asked about Jones’ struggles on the field and what went into his decision to leave Jones out there to return kicks after making multiple mistakes, Belichick made it clear that Jones was not the only player who made mistakes on those plays. As easy as it is to single out the ball carrier on a botched kick return, those plays are still the product of a team effort with a lot of coaching that went into them. It’s impossible for anyone outside the team to really pinpoint what went wrong.
“I would say my advice to you and to the fans to everybody else would be not to be too quick to decide who’s right and who’s wrong when you don’t really know what’s going on,” said Belichick. “And that’s hard for me, too. If I watch something on another play or another team I can see there’s a mistake. I’m not necessarily sure who made it. Obviously, something wasn’t done properly; that’s evident. But what went wrong and why it went wrong, what’s the background of how it happened, if you’re not really part of the team I mean that’s a very hard thing to evaluate.
“I know I respect the experts that are out there, we have a lot of good ones, but I wouldn’t – I know it’s very hard for me when I see a mistake on film that another team makes to identify exactly what the problem was because it could probably be one of two or three things. Unless you actually know what the call was, what they were taught to do, I don’t know if you really know who actually made the mistake.”
That’s Belichickian for “Stop hating on Cyrus Jones, he’s not the only one who screwed up there.”
Jones’ teammate, special teams ace Matthew Slater, stood up for Jones after the game on Sunday, taking accountability for failing to properly direct the kick return unit.
“I have to do a better job communicating on the back end,” Slater told reporters after the game. “As the leader of that group, it falls on me.”
In many ways, football is the ultimate team sport. It’s often very hard to hang blame for a particular play on a single player. It often falls on a group of players failing to work together, or a breakdown in communication, or a number of other factors that go into making a mistake. Jones was certainly indecisive on his kick returns, but so was the entire special teams group from Slater on down. It’s similar to blaming a bad running game on just the running back, rather than also factoring the offensive line and/or the quarterback directing the plays.
It was yet another moment where Belichick gave something of a sarcastic nod to the “experts” out there who were quick to judge Jones for his mistakes in the return game. It was also a reminder that Belichick runs a team and not an individual or collection of individuals. He runs a complete team, and the Patriots’ kickoff struggles against the Bills were a team-wide breakdown.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.