Less than 24 hours after his team's nail-biting loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick sounded like someone already looking forward to the 2016 season.
"We had some opportunities, but in the end came up just a little bit short," Belichick said in a Monday press conference. "It’s obviously a disappointing feeling at this time of year. We did a lot of good things. We won a lot of games. And came up short in the end. So it’s bittersweet.”
However, Belichick was quick to turn the page, via Erik Frenz of Bleacher Report:
Belichick: "Couple plays, couple calls, couple whatevers" that led to #Patriots loss. But they "start the process all over again."— Erik Frenz (@ErikFrenz) January 25, 2016
The Patriots, playing in their fifth consecutive conference title game, lost 20-18 after failing to convert a two-point conversion with 12 seconds remaining. Their need to go for two rested at the foot of kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed an extra point after a first-quarter Steven Jackson touchdown. It was Gostkowski's first missed PAT since 2006.
“Steve is a great kicker. He had a great year for us,” Belichick said. “As I said at the beginning, I think every player, coach and participant in the game wishes there was a couple things they could have done differently. I feel that way. Everybody I’ve talked to feels that way. I can’t imagine anybody that participated in the game doesn’t feel that way."
The Patriots offensive line has also drawn criticism, as Denver spent most of its day hitting quarterback Tom Brady hard in the pocket. Brady was sacked four times and was hit on 23 occasions overall. ESPN Stats & Info noted Brady had not been hit more than 12 times in any other game this season.
Belichick said the following regarding the constant pressure:
I’d say it was a combination of things. Denver did a good job defensively. So, it’s all interconnected between the receivers, the quarterback, the offensive line, the timing, the execution, the balance in the running game, longer yardages situations. It’s all part of it. And in the end it just wasn’t as good as it needed to be yesterday. Period. In any area. I wouldn’t put it on any one guy or any one situation or one position or anything like that. Just in the end we came up short.
Von Miller alone accounted for 2.5 sacks, adding four hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. DeMarcus Ware had three hurries and added a half-sack of his own.
“They’ve got some great pass rushers,” Brady said, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “They have interior pass rushers, they’ve got some outside rushers. I think you complement that with great coverage. It was just tough for us to ever get into a rhythm.”
These numbers should come as no surprise given Denver's regular-season brilliance. The Broncos led the NFL with 52 sacks, allowed the sport's fewest passing yards and finished fourth in quarterback rating against. Brady spent nearly his entire afternoon picking himself up off the ground and hurriedly ridding himself of the ball via short passes.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has spent all season buzzing through opposing defenses despite the mediocre skill position talent around him. Two weeks from now, though, we'll get to see how he performs against his biggest test to date.
The matchup between Newton and the Broncos' pass rush is one that will be a major focus leading up to the big game and will likely determine who lifts the Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.