Bill Belichick: Patriots' top priority is players' health, safety

Mark Daniels
Providence Journal
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During a normal week, the Patriots would have entered Thursday preparing for their second practice of the week. They would have had most of their game plan installed by the day’s end. On Friday, they would wrap up the preparation and head into the weekend ready to take on the Denver Broncos inside Gillette Stadium.

As we’ve learned in 2020, what used to be normal isn't always within grasp.

That’s the case for Bill Belichick. On Thursday, the Patriots coach set out to prepare his Patriots players and coaches for the Broncos by the way of virtual meetings. After Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Gillette Stadium has been shutdown and Patriots practice has been canceled for at least two days. It’s possible the team returns on Friday for one practice before their Sunday matchup, but it’s not guaranteed.

At this point, Belichick said the priority is player safety.

“There’s nothing more important than the health of the team. Without a healthy team, you don’t have a team,” Belichick said on Thursday morning. “That’s priority No. 1. I’d say not only for our team, but for their families and people that are close to them. That’s always our No. 1 concern. We’ll do everything we can to make that best that we can make it. That’s the way it’s always been and that’ll never change.”

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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wears two masks as he watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs , Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Kansas City.

At this point, the NFL is maintaining that Sunday’s Patriots-Broncos game will proceed as scheduled. According to the NFL Network, all the Patriots' test results from Wednesday came back negative. 

New England came into Thursday with three positive tests – Cam Newton, Bill Murray and Gilmore. According to ESPN, Gilmore had dinner with Newton on Friday night before Newton and the Patriots learned of his test results. The Patriots quarterback was allowed in the building and at practice all day on Friday.

When Newton tested positive, the NFL delayed the Patriots-Chiefs game a day, but when the two teams had three days of negative test results, the game went on. That meant Gilmore, who was exposed to COVID-19, road on a bus and a plane and shared a locker room with his teammates. Belichick wouldn’t comment when asked if he knew about the cornerback having dinner with Newton.

Due to the incubation period of the virus, it’s hard to know when the Patriots will be in clear. Belichick was asked about that and his level of concern if the team returns to practice or the game field.

“Those are all the questions that we’re asking. We’re relying on the doctors and people in that field to take everything under advisement,” Belichick said. “I’d say they have a big role in making those decisions. Really, these aren’t football decisions, they’re medical decisions. In terms of medical decisions those fall to medical people. Football decisions fall to football people. We’ll see how it goes. Where we are today, I don’t think we can really plan too far ahead – start talking about Saturday, Sunday and a bunch of other days. There’s a lot that can happen in the meantime. As things change, if there are positive or potentially negative developments, we’ll look at those.

″... It’s the health and safety of the team first and football second. Yesterday and today, we’re not in the building and we’ll take it day by day.”

For now, the Patriots are at a disadvantage compared to the Broncos, who are practicing this week. Since the Patriots can’t get together in person, Belichick said they’re teaching players with use of diagrams and film breakdowns. He admits, it’s not a great situation.

“Not ideal. This isn’t what we’d normally do,” Belichick said. “There is an opportunity to cover things and get things taught and explain them and have players ask questions and have coaches put together a game plan based on the same format that we’re using. Again, it’s not what we’d choose to do because we have that option and we don’t do it this way. This is what we can do, so we’ll do the best we can with it.”

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