FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One exhibition game isn’t enough for Bill Belichick to make any firm decisions.
So after watching his runners pile up yards, his best cornerback give up a long touchdown pass and Tim Tebow do better running than throwing, the New England coach is eager to see more.
“Way too early to make any definitive decisions,” Belichick said Saturday, “but we’re making progress and we have more to work with than we had five days ago.”
The Patriots beat the Eagles 31-22 on Friday night after practicing with them for three days in Philadelphia.
On Tuesday, New England will be at home to start joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the teams meet Friday night at Gillette Stadium.
“We need to see and be exposed to different things, and we’ll certainly get that this week,” Belichick said. “We’re looking forward to another similar, hopefully, type of week where we can improve and grow as a football team.”
Against the Eagles, the Patriots rushed for 248 yards starting with Stevan Ridley’s 62-yard gain on the first snap of the game. LeGarrette Blount, who will face his former team Friday, ran for 101 yards, including 51 for a touchdown on which he reversed field behind the line of scrimmage in his first game since being traded by the Buccaneers.
Both have had 1,000-yard rushing seasons — Blount with 1,007 as a rookie in 2010 and Ridley with 1,263 in his second NFL season last year.
“It’s not like he hasn’t performed well in this league,” Belichick said about Blount. “It’s no shock he can run the ball. We all know that.”
But take away those two big runs and the Patriots gained 135 on 29 carries.
“We had our moments,” Belichick said. “Some of it we were fortunate. We caught a good play against a bad defense.”
Other times the receivers occupied defensive backs long enough so they couldn’t move up to tackle the runner.
“Even though the yardage was high, that’s a little bit deceptive,” Belichick said. “There were some encouraging things.”
He didn’t seem discouraged when Aqib Talib was beaten up the right side on Michael Vick’s 47-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on Philadelphia’s first possession.
The pass was just too good.
“You just have to give credit to the offense. That was a great throw, perfectly thrown, great route by DeSean,” Belichick said. “Obviously our defense wasn’t good enough any time you give up a play like that, but it was an exceptional play that we were close on, but, obviously, not close enough.
“It probably would have been a big play on a lot of different players or calls.”
Belichick got a chance to see how his players react in situations that don’t come up a lot.
Zoltan Mesko had to punt from deep in his end zone, the defense got to face four plays when the Eagles went for it on fourth down, and Tebow entered the game earlier than planned. He came in when second-string quarterback Ryan Mallett was hit in the chest late in the second quarter and left with what the team said was a head injury, although Mallett said he did not suffer a concussion.
Unusual developments allow Belichick to judge his players’ preparedness.
“There’s no way to script those, how many are going to come up or when they’re going to come up,” he said. “That’s part of the evaluation to see how players react on the run, adjust to unplanned situations. They think they’re not going to play right away (but someone gets injured and) they have to go in and play. Well, that’s football, too.
“Like what happened to Mallett. If you’re the backup quarterback, you never know when you’re going in the game,” Belichick said. “Whenever it is, you’ve just got to be ready. All those things are opportunities.”
When Tebow played, the Patriots simplified their offense to capitalize on his running ability and avoid his throwing limitations.
He ran four times for 31 yards and completed 4 of 12 passes for 55 yards.
“It’s all about the same for everyone,” Belichick said after the game when asked about Tebow. “It was good. It was far from perfect. We all made mistakes out there and there are plenty of things to work on for all of us. Not singling anyone out.”