CHARLOTTE — Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow has always kept pretty early hours.
But he was surprised one morning at his office at Arizona State, when he was working, and now-Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knocked on his door.
At the time, Belichick was preparing for his first year in his new gig with the Jets (1997), as Bill Parcells' defensive coordinator. And he was visiting Tempe while at Arizona State's pro day, checking out prospects, including now-Panthers defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach Jason Simmons.
"I always get in early, got a knock on my door about 6:15 in the morning," Snow recalled. "I thought, who in the heck is this? And it was coach Belichick. I said, 'Coach, what are you doing? And he said, 'Can I come in and visit?' He had visited with some of our players the night before and was impressed by their knowledge.
"So we sat and talked football for three hours. That always left an impression on me, . . . he's wanting to come talk to me about some things he was impressed with with our players.
"I think he has always tried to get better in every way."
Snow also noted that now-Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll dropped by one night around 10 p.m. to talk ball, but said that conversation with Belichick was instructive, as they got on the board and talked about the particulars of defense, reminding him of talks with Belichick's friend Nick Saban.
"They're the same way, always trying to find an edge," Snow said. "That always impressed me about them. As good as they are, they're trying to get better."
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said he's always been an admirer of Belichick (having eight Super Bowl rings will do that), though he hasn't had a chance to have any in-depth conversations with him. They were supposed to play each other last year in the preseason, and they've had passing words at pro days, "but nothing of substance."
Rhule said he's heard plenty of stories from his mentor Wayne Hardin (who coached with Belichick's father Steve at the Naval Academy), and admires how the Patriots teams have played.
"I don't even have much right to even speak on coach Belichick," Rhule said. "I mean, he's the greatest. I couldn't even pretend to say what makes him. . . . everything. He's won all different ways, with different players; he's had so many guys come through his team and his system and found a way to get it done.
I think the biggest thing is, . . . it looks like he has a total program. Everything's integrated. They play together, they play the same style. With six minutes left in the game, they have the lead, and their guys are all getting to the boundary and sliding. Just elite time management and situational awareness, impacted by everybody. Last year we had a guy reach across the goal line, and guys asked me why would he do that? Look at their team, they throw the ball and the 1-yard line, and they've got five points of ball security.
"They are just culturally, they're not going to beat themselves, they do things the right way. It's elite football. So it's really cool to watch."
— Offensive coordinator Joe Brady said no one was singling quarterback PJ Walker out for excessive criticism, after his near-interception at the goal line last week when he took over for an injured Sam Darnold.
Rhule called the play "unacceptable," and expressed as much to Walker (probably in a Phillip rather than P.J. moment).
"I think no matter who the quarterback is, when you're in the red zone, the last thing you do is put the ball in harm's way," Brady said Thursday. "P.J. knows that. If Sam was in that exact same situation, if (practice squad quarterback) James Morgan was in that exact same situation, we'd be saying the same thing.
"I don't think it has anything to do with giving leeway to one or the other; it was the one thing we couldn't do in that situation was turn the ball over."
— Running back Chuba Hubbard said he's been impressed with how quickly teammate Ameer Abdullah has picked things up, and how quick he is.
"He's only been with us a few weeks, and he's taught me a lot so far," Hubbard said. "Really twitchy, fast, can make a guy miss in a phone booth. It's been good. Glad he's here."
Of course, the 22-year-old Hubbard may have never actually seen a phone booth, but that's beside the point.
View all of the best photos from pre-game, in-game and post-game from Carolina's win at Atlanta.