FOXBOROUGH — Not long before his players started emptying their lockers of the gear accumulated during a season, filling black trash bags or large cardboard boxes, coach Bill Belichick strode to the podium one last time Monday to wrap up the Patriots’ 2012 season.
Belichick was surprisingly reflective during his news conference, particularly during his lengthy opening statement, which summarized Sunday’s AFC Championship game loss to the Ravens, the overall success of the team, and the beginning of the offseason for him and his staff.
“From looking at the tape this morning, I think we definitely missed some opportunities,” Belichick said. “Certainly the red area [the Patriots were 1 for 4] was a big deciding edge in the game in their favor. It felt like defensively we didn’t do a good enough job on second down.
“We really, we had them in a number of second-down situations, second and 10s and those kind of things, and they kind of got off the hook there with a couple passes to [Ray] Rice, [Dennis] Pitta, [Torrey] Smith, a run by [Bernard] Pierce. We just were never able to get into many third-down situations there in the second half where we actually could have gotten them off the field. We didn’t string those plays together.
“Really, that was pretty much the story of the game: missed opportunities and the differential in the red area.”
Speaking just 12 hours after his team suffered its first home defeat in an AFC Championship game, Belichick also pointed to the Patriots’ inability to score in the second half even as they got to the Ravens’ 19-yard line and then the 24 in the fourth quarter. Had they made it a one-score game at that point, Belichick believes they could have had a chance, but he tipped his cap to Baltimore.
“Give the Ravens credit — they did a great job, they deserved to win, they were the better team,” he said. “We had opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on and they obviously hurt us. The Ravens had opportunities that they did capitalize on and that’s why they’re still playing. Take nothing away from them; we missed our opportunities.”
After staring at a 3-3 record after an October loss in Seattle, the Patriots won nine of their last 10 regular-season games as well as a divisional-round game against Houston before being knocked out Sunday.
Their progress and final 13-5 record pleased Belichick.
“On balance I still thought that certainly there were a lot of positives from this football team,” he said. “It’s a team that I enjoyed coaching. I thought that the players worked hard behind the scenes; everybody doesn’t see that, but on a day-to-day basis they worked hard, they competed well, they didn’t make excuses. They got better over the course of the season, both individually and collectively.
“We wouldn’t have gotten to where we were without a lot of good, consistent performances from a lot of people in a number of games and countless practices and meetings and all the things that lead up to that. Certainly, the outcome yesterday is not where we wanted to end up. I give these guys a lot of credit for what they did do and the number of times they did it and the number of times they did it in tough situations.”
As abruptly as the end of the season came — “If you’re playing this time of year, it’s either euphoria or a crash landing. For us yesterday it was a crash landing,” Belichick said — the work on the 2013 season starts Tuesday.
There will be an evaluation of the team and its schemes, a big-picture look at the roster and free agents, both their own and those that will hit the open market come March 12, and preparations for the draft.
Work already has started on the draft, with members of the scouting staff attending the East-West Shrine game last week and slated to be at the Senior Bowl this week.
Belichick stressed that nothing will be done in haste.
“All of that will take place down the road; nothing will happen today, tomorrow, or the next day, so now is not really the time to talk about that,” he said. “That’s for a later point in time when we can take evaluation, make an evaluation of the entire football team, and put it all together.
“Things aren’t necessarily done on an individual, case-by-case basis. Certainly every individual is important, but collectively it has to be looked at in context of the entire team, and that process takes a little thought. It takes a little while to go through that process and encompass all the factors that really need to be considered.”
Belichick would not answer questions on Wes Welker and Aqib Talib, two of the Patriots’ higher-profile players whose contracts are set to expire, reiterating that those decisions have yet to be made.
There is one thing Belichick does know. Asked if he’ll be back for another season, his 14th as the Patriots’ coach, he left little doubt.
“I’ll be here . . . you’ll have to deal with me again next year,” he said to reporters, drawing laughs. “I know that’s disappointing for a lot of you.
“Until I’m told otherwise, I plan on being here.”