FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Quick.
Who are all the tight ends on the Buffalo Bills?
In his first week with the Patriots in 2009, Rob Ninkovich was stumped when Bill Belichick surprised him with that question.
''Afterward, he came up to me and he said, `You should also know their shoe size,''' the defensive end said. ''So from then on I made sure I knew every single tight end. Couldn't find the shoe size, but I was trying.''
His coach's pop quizzes - in team meetings, passing players in the hallway or anywhere they meet - can be a source of fear.
And that makes them study and so they'll be better prepared for the next game.
''I think that puts us all on edge,'' special teams captain Matthew Slater said. ''It's not about embarrassing a guy. It's not about putting a guy on the spot. It's about us being prepared and being ready to go on Sunday.''
They better have the answers for the final test on Feb. 1 in the Super Bowl against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks in Glendale, Arizona.
Professor Belichick questions both veteran stars and young backups. Sometimes he'll ask one player if another's answer is correct.
''Heart's pounding, palms are sweating,'' running back Shane Vereen said of younger players' reactions.
What might an opposing defense do against a certain formation at a particular spot on the field?
What about that new play coaches added the previous day?
''We've all gotten caught,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ''Some of the questions he asks you, you don't even think about it. I mean it usually results in us being very prepared at the end of the week.''
Belichick might be an odd choice to go all Alex Trebek on his players.
The coach with all the questions is known for giving non-answers to reporters.
''We're on to Cincinnati,'' he said repeatedly after being asked about the team's problems following a 41-14 loss to Kansas City one week before playing the Bengals.
On Thursday, he said, ''I don't have an explanation'' for the Patriots use of underinflated balls in last Sunday night's 45-7 AFC championship game win over Indianapolis.
But his players, like school children crouching in their seats hoping not to be called on, know Belichick's surprise quizzes can keep them from being surprised in games.
''He actually did catch me in the hallway when I was a rookie and he asked me a question a couple of years ago about a play,'' third-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. ''Apparently it was a big play by a big player and I didn't get it. It's kind of frowned upon by all the other guys, so I learned my lesson then.''
For all his obsession with preparation, Belichick knows there are limits. He recently paraphrased former President and five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower while meeting with reporters.
''Preparation is everything until the battle starts, and then it doesn't mean anything,'' Belichick said. ''Then you react to what happens in the game. In his case, what happens in the battle.''
So if the Patriots have never seen the opponent's first five plays, they fall back on fundamentals such as tackling, covering a receiver or filling a gap, McCourty said.
''That will never steer you wrong,'' he said. ''It's not the same as a battle. Those guys' lives are at stake.''
The Patriots are preparing for their sixth Super Bowl in 14 years, all under Belichick. They've won three of them.
''Bill knows everything about a team, from personnel to the coaching staff, the players, everything,'' McCourty said. ''By the end of the week, we usually know it, too.''
Now they have more than a week to study, practice, and, perhaps, try to avoid Belichick's questions.
''They haven't been strange. They just catch you off guard,'' wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. ''It's usually, `What did we put in the game plan overnight on Tuesday,' just to see if you looked at the game plan.''
And what if you don't answer correctly?
''You've got to,'' LaFell said, ''or you'll have those questions every day.''
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