Belichick mum on playing time for finale

Updated: December 29, 2009, 7:44 AM ET
Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave his AFC East champions a day to rest Monday. He's not saying whether he'll do the same for his starters on Sunday.

That's when New England ends its regular season at Houston against the Texans, who still have an outside chance at a wild-card spot in the postseason and, if they make it, could even meet the Patriots in the first round.

"I honestly haven't given it any thought at all," Belichick said Monday, the day after a 35-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that clinched the division. "My thoughts are on Jacksonville. We knew that was a game we needed to win and we put a lot into that game and I'm glad the results came out the way they did.

"Like I said last week, we'll deal with next week next week, so we'll deal with this week this week."

Belichick-speak aside, the coach departed from his customary day-after-game manner. He was unusually cheerful following the Patriots' outstanding performance at a time of year when teams hope to be approaching their peak.

"I'm doing good," he said, "doing real good. It was a good day for us yesterday."

A very good day.

The Patriots scored touchdowns on five of their first seven possessions and rushed for a season-high 197 yards. Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes and only three incompletions and for the fourth straight came wasn't sacked. Randy Moss caught three of those scoring throws. And Wes Welker added 13 catches to his NFL-leading total, now a club-record 122.

The defense came up with two interceptions and held Maurice Jones-Drew to 63 yards rushing, nearly 25 below his average.

"We'll try to hopefully stay on that track," Belichick said, "good preparation, good practice and play well."

But just who will play?

Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and other starters from Sunday's game against the New York Jets with the Colts leading 15-10 in the third quarter. They already had clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs but had a chance for an unbeaten season. That ended when the Jets came back for a 29-15 win.

"I think they do what's best for their football team," Belichick said. "What other interest do we have? We have an interest in our football team, that's it."

So is it in the Patriots interest for the starters to play the entire game Sunday? Or would it be more prudent to give some of them much of the game -- if not the entire game -- off to avoid the risk of injury even though a loss could leave them with the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs instead of No. 3.

Belichick said he has a philosophy about what to do after clinching a playoff berth.

"Absolutely," he said. "I do what's best for our football team. That's my philosophy."

He gave his players a rare Monday off, perhaps in recognition of the impressive effort that brought the Patriots (10-5) their sixth division title in seven years. They only missed last year when the Miami Dolphins won it on a tiebreaker after both finished at 11-5. New England's season ended without a playoff spot.

This year, the Patriots will play their first-round game at home, where Brady has won 20 consecutive regular-season games. With seven teams still in the running for the two AFC wild-card berths, Belichick's staff will have a busy week doing early scouting.

"Some of the teams that are possibilities in the playoffs we are pretty familiar with, and others not as familiar, or some are more recent [opponents] than others," he said. "We'll kind of have to figure all that out here in the next couple of days. Right now, our [focus] this morning was to come in and watch the Jacksonville game, make some corrections on that, talk about the things that we need to do and then get ready for Houston."

Going into their last regular-season game in 2007, the Patriots already had clinched homefield advantage for the AFC playoffs and were trying to become the first team to go 16-0. Belichick decided to play his first-stringers from start to finish and they won 38-35 over the New York Giants, who went on to beat them in the Super Bowl.

But the Patriots had a first-round bye that season, giving them extra time to rest and tend to injuries. This season, they won't have that before the playoff game on Jan. 9 or 10.

"Whatever we did in any other year was whatever we thought was the best thing to do, whatever that was 2003, 2008, or whatever it was," Belichick said. "We do what we thought was best, whether anybody agrees with it or not, but that's what we did and that's what we will continue to do."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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