Relief might be the apt word to describe the Patriots’ postgame press conferences on Thursday night.
Of course, it’s to be expected for a tense and weathered locker room to finally exhale after snapping a five-game losing streak.
But in a season where little seems to have gone right in Foxborough, several areas of New England’s roster finally seemed to get their due during Thursday’s 21-18 win over the Steelers.
After scoring a combined 13 points in their previous three games, Bailey Zappe and New England’s offense finally showed signs of life — with the second-year QB becoming the first Patriots QB to toss three touchdowns in the first half of a game since Tom Brady in 2018.
After dropping three straight games despite holding opposing offenses to 10 points or fewer in each meeting, New England’s defense was finally rewarded with a win — clamping down during Pittsburgh’s second-half surge.
But following Thursday’s win at Acrisure Stadium, Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers opted to tip his cap to Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ coaching staff, rather than harp on the play of New England’s tenacious defense.
For all of the relief finally realized by a Patriots roster in need of a win, that sentiment was likely magnified by a New England coaching group that has borne the brunt of criticism in 2023.
“I just feel good we could get it done for Bill and the rest of the coaches,” as recorded by ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “They work extremely hard, try to put us in the right place to make plays. And we did enough to win tonight.”
Of course, plenty of the discourse and disapproval doled out against Belichick has plenty of validity — with the legendary head coach’s personnel decisions and years of poor drafting coming home to roost in 2023 with a roster woefully short on talent and depth.
But with most of the narratives hovering over Foxborough these days centered around Belichick’s job security and his future rather than the play on the field, Peppers backed up his head coach following Thursday’s win.
“I don’t really like all the flak he’s been getting, because it’s on us as players to go out there and execute and I personally feel like the game plan has been a phenomenal week in and week out and we had the opportunities to make the plays, we didn’t make them,” Peppers explained. “But we made enough tonight. So we’re going to correct this tape, get our bodies back and move on to [Kansas City].”
Thursday’s win may not be enough to reverse New England’s long-term fortunes in 2023, with the Patriots still last in the AFC with a 3-10 record.
But it might be enough to at least temporarily quiet some of the conversation regarding Belichick’s job performance, at least over these final weeks of the 2023 campaign.
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