FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are playing their opener at Gillette Stadium Sunday against the Houston Texans, but Bill Belichick was in midseason form in his media conference Wednesday morning.

Smiles? Nope.

Voice inflections? Nope.

Jokes? None.

Singular focus? Yep.

Heaping praise on the Texans’ coaching staff, headed by ex-Patriots coaches Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel? Most definitely yes.

“Impressive team, as they always are,” he said of the Texans.

“They have a lot of outstanding players in all three phases of the game,” he continued.

“They’ve consistently been one of the top defenses in the league in every category pretty much when they’re healthy,” he said.

“He’s a great technique coach, very good fundamental coach – as good as any I’ve ever seen,” he said of Crennel, the defensive coordinator of Belichick’s first three Super Bowl championship teams with the Patriots.

You get the picture.

For Belichick, all focus is on this opener, to make sure the Patriots get off on the right foot, unlike last year when they opened with a stunning 42-27 loss to Kansas City.

And, for Belichick, there is no greater challenge than dealing with “Opening Day questions,” as he called them.

“Opening Day is always a challenge because the amount, the volume of all three phases and all the situations and all the things that have come up between last year, this year and new personnel and so forth,” he said, noting that about a third of Houston’s roster features new players.

The Patriots have their share of newcomers too: 13 players are on the roster for the first time.

So the uncertainty for Belichick isn’t just about Houston, it’s about how his players will react.

“I’m sure we’ll see things that we haven’t prepared for, just like we always do and always happens on Opening Day,” said Belichick.

“So, again, Opening Day is Opening Day.”

Belichick’s teams usually do well in openers: 15-8 as a head coach, 13 of those wins coming with the Patriots.

This will be Belichick’s 44th season as an NFL coach, his 19th as the head guy of the Patriots. He was an assistant coach for 20 seasons. He played football at Annapolis High School in Maryland and at Wesleyan University.

Asked if he still gets excited for the opener, Belichick didn’t stray from his narrative.

“Yeah, it’s a big challenge,” he said, his voice never altering. “We’ll see what happens on Sunday, but yeah, we’re excited to get going.”

Excited? You couldn’t tell by his answer. Maybe it’s because he’s been in so many openers that he can simply treat it like any other game. Or maybe it’s because he knows the challenge that awaits.

All eyes will be on the Patriots to see if any of the offseason drama that involved the team’s leadership trinity – owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady – spills over into the regular season. We’ll see if the Patriots can overcome the loss of wide receiver Julian Edelman (suspended for the season’s first four games) against a dangerous defense, and if their offensive line can hold off the pressure of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney.

The Patriots are clearly the NFL’s benchmark and Belichick is the league’s best head coach. This team has always followed his lead, so when his focus is clearly on one thing, you can bet the players are of a like mind.

They know the challenge.

“We still have quite a bit of work to do,” Belichick said before the team went out to practice Wednesday. “We’re well underway, so we’ll work through it here this week and hopefully clean things up by the end of the week and be ready to go.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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