NFL praise for clean play a first for Belichick

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FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - Bill Belichick has seen a lot in his 36 NFL seasons. But a league executive praising a player who simply observed the rules?

Belichick can’t recall that happening in a pro career that has taken him to seven teams, five Super Bowl titles as a head coach or assistant and an outstanding 11-season stint as coach of the New England Patriots.

Ray Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, praised Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather on Monday for not making any illegal hits in Sunday’s 23-20 win over the San Diego Chargers.

“I think that would be a first for me. The officials are now evaluating the players and their performance. No, I mean that’s great,” Belichick said with a smirk before pausing for several seconds.

Then he added, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me, really” as reporters laughed.

The Patriots beat the Chargers one week after a 23-20 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens in which Meriweather was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet collision with tight end Todd Heap. The NFL fined Meriweather $50,000. It also fined Pittsburgh’s James Harrison $75,000 for an illegal hit the same day on Cleveland receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

Anderson said that after those hits on defenseless receivers, Meriweather and Harrison “heeded our emphasis” on eliminating fouls and deserve to be lauded. The NFL said last week that it would begin suspending players for such tackles.

No penalties were called for illegal hits to defenseless receivers during Sunday’s 13 games.

“We complied with all the league memos and regulations that we had last week,” Belichick said. “There were no fouls for that.”

Players, though, must make quick decisions when going for a tackle, he said.

“Those situations are not scripted. They happen on very short notice,” Belichick said. “We can look at all those plays, but each one of them’s kind of unique. They have their own set of spatial issues, but as we have always done here, we know the rules, players try to play within the rules, (we) try to coach the techniques that are consistent with what the rules and the interpretations of the officials are.”

And when violations do occur?

“We try to correct them and make sure that the players understand what they did wrong, what they can and can’t do, what’s legal and what’s a foul,” he said, “and try to coach them in a way that they can play and do their job without committing a violation.”

The Patriots committed seven penalties at San Diego and nearly gave away all of their 23-6 lead in the last half of the fourth quarter. But a penalty by the Chargers _ a false start by Louis Vasquez _ moved Kris Brown back 5 yards and he missed the 50-yard field goal attempt with 22 seconds left.

San Diego also lost three fumbles and an interception, all in the first half, but New England managed just a touchdown and field goal on the ensuing possessions.

Still, the Patriots improved to 5-1, tied with the Steelers and New York Jets for the best record in the NFL.

“It’s good to win, but also we know we’re one or two plays away from that being the other way, like most teams in this league are. 5-1 could easily be something else,” Belichick said. “We know how fragile that is.”

A week earlier, the Patriots came back from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Ravens. Against the Chargers, they managed just 179 yards of offense, less than half of San Diego’s total of 363.

“We missed opportunities in all three phases of the game,” Belichick said. “Certainly, a lot of room for improvement, no question about it. We could’ve done just about everything better at some point or another.”

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