FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ? Late-season success is about desire and determination. The New England Patriots have experienced more of it than any team in the last decade, and they attribute it to an understanding of where they need to be as the calendar turns and the playoffs grow closer.
“[Late-season success is] knowing what it takes to get where you want to get, to be where you want to be,” said running back Kevin Faulk, who has been with the Patriots since 1999. “If you want to be the best team at the end of the year, you’ve got to be able to make your team better in November, December and January.”
The Patriots have compiled an impressive record in the second half of the season. Since 2001, they’re 70-17 (.805 winning percentage) after Nov. 1, including a 14-3 mark in the playoffs. Breaking it down a step further, New England is 24-9 in November (.727) and 30-4 in December (.882), along with a 2-1 regular-season record in January. Conversely, the Patriots are 46-19 (.708) in games prior to November since 2001.
In the last eight seasons, including the playoffs, the Patriots have had four remarkable records in November and beyond, boasting an 11-0 mark in 2003, 11-1 records in 2001 and 2004, and a 10-1 mark in 2007. Over that stretch, their worst post-October record was the 7-4 mark of 2005.
“It’s an instinct of knowing what’s important, what’s at stake,” Faulk said. “Being the best team, that’s what you’ve got to be. You’ve got to know what’s at stake.”
Their record is even more impressive at home as the season rolls on. Since 2001, the Patriots are 35-8 (.814) after Nov. 1, including a perfect 8-0 record in the playoffs. They’re a marginal 10-6 in November home games during that span, but the Patriots are 16-1 in December home games since 2001, and that includes a 13-game winning streak. (The lone loss came in a 30-17 decision against the New York Jets in 2002, which essentially ended the Patriots’ playoff hopes that season.)
New England is 1-1 in regular-season home games in January, with the loss coming in a meaningless 2005 regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins, when quarterback Tom Brady and the starters barely played.
The Patriots’ success obviously comes from having a talented roster and a head coach who is widely considered the best in the business. And the Patriots have proven time and again they can thrive when the games become more meaningful late in the season.
The weather conditions are also a factor for the Patriots, who spend the majority of their practices outside in the elements, rather than inside the Dana-Farber Field House. Bill Belichick prefers to take advantage of real-life situations instead of catering to his players’ comfort, and that has clearly paid off for the Patriots. As a result, New England is 11-0 all-time in home games played in the snow, and the Patriots are 8-0 in such games dating back to the 2001 divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders.
“The conditions get a little bit worse, and I think we’re really used to those conditions,” said wide receiver Wes Welker. “Coach really coaches us up well for the conditions we’re going to play in. We’re able to adapt and able to practice in it, and we get ready for when the game is going on.”
Echoed Faulk, “Whatever the conditions are, we’ve got to play in it. And that’s just [Belichick’s] motto. If we have to practice in it the week before, we’ll practice in it and then just go out and play football.”