FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Bill Belichick has never hidden his affinity for football history.
New England's coach is enamored with the game’s evolution and contributions by its pioneers, their names etched like hashmarks in the annals of the sport where he's spent nearly four decades.
After the Patriots’ win at Cleveland last week, Belichick asked his players to walk back onto the field before leaving the stadium to glance at its Ring of Honor and the names of Jim Brown, Paul Brown, Bill Willis, Marion Motley and Ozzie Newsome.
“I told them I thought they should go out there and just think for a minute about some of the sacrifices that those guys made,” Belichick said. “Not just on the field. Not just as players, but as people and for what they stood for.”
It’s also been Belichick’s nature to shift any praise that's thrown his way for his triumphs, always downplaying his role in any of the Patriots' six Super Bowl victories.
“Winning games in this league is about having good players and I’m very fortunate to have a lot of them,” Belichick said this week as the Patriots prepared to host the Chicago Bears. “I had them in New York. I had them in Cleveland. I have them here.”
But the common denominator is Belichick.
A victory Monday night would be the 325th of his career — including the playoffs — and break a tie with Bears founder George Halas for the second-most wins by a head coach in NFL history. Hall of Famer Don Shula at 347 is the only coach with more.
Scott Pioli, who worked with Belichick as a personnel assistant in Cleveland before becoming New England’s personnel director in 2000 and helping the Patriots capture their first three Lombardi trophies, believes this milestone is special for Belichick.
“I think it means a ton,” Pioli told NFL Network. “Some of our earliest conversations were about the history of the game. The people. The franchises. ... I think he’s a little bit taken aback that his name is being mentioned along with those people.”
At age 70 and in his 23rd season with New England, Belichick became one of four people to coach at least 400 games with a single team, along with Halas (506 with Chicago), Tom Landry (454 with Dallas) and Shula (422 with Miami).
Among that group, Belichick's winning percentage (.716) is the highest. He is 287-114 as New England's coach, including playoffs.
Safety Devin McCourty, in his 13th season with the Patriots, said Belichick's success has roots in the coach's standards and consistency.
“I think Bill creates that here, but just always been that same guy,” McCourty said. “Different people have sat in all the rooms and the chairs in (the team facility). And for a long period of time, you’ve seen the same result.”
JONES TO RETURN?
Signs are pointing to quarterback Mac Jones returning to New England's starting lineup this week.
He’s missed the past three games while recovering from the left ankle injury he sustained in the Patriots’ loss to Baltimore on Sept 25. In addition to moving well at practice this week, he’s also been spotted getting extra work outside of the normal practice window.
Rookie backup Bailey Zappe has gone 2-0 in back-to-back starts, including a 300-yard, two-touchdown performance last week against the Browns.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields went from taking a step forward to taking a beating last week.
The former Ohio State star was sacked five times, took 12 hits behind a shaky line and absorbed a few more blows by running 12 times in a Thursday night loss to Washington.
“I think you can make small, incremental improvements as you go,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “I think that’s with anybody. I think you can learn to read your keys and see what the coverages are faster. I think you can identify that pre-snap, post-snap a little bit faster and I think you can do that.”
Fields made some big plays, such as a 40-yard touchdown pass and a 39-yard scramble to the 5 near the end of the game that put Chicago in position to win. But after setting career highs in completion rate (71.4%) and passer rating (118.8) the previous week against Minnesota, Fields completed 14 of 27 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the Bears' ugly 12-7 loss to the Commanders.
One bright spot for the Bears is the secondary.
The Bears rank third against the pass, and it’s not just because teams are running at will against a team that’s near the bottom of the NFL in stopping the rush. Chicago has more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes allowed (four) and has held opponents to a 79.9 rating.
Safety Eddie Jackson has three interceptions after going two seasons without one. He had six in his 2018 All-Pro season and two more the following year when he was chosen for his second Pro Bowl. Jackson has 13 interceptions since he debuted in 2017.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.
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