Nobody appreciates the month of December quite like Tom Brady and the Patriots. Well, unless you’re a big believer of that fat man from the North Pole. The numbers have been repeated so often they don’t even require a double check but do bear repeating over and over again.
Brady is 55-10 in the final month of every year, far and away the best of any in his storied career. But it’s not just Brady, obviously. It’s an entire team, one that’s changed over the years but still has embraced the final quarter of the regular season like few other, especially in those “Super” seasons. The Pats are 26-2 during Decembers when they’ve eventually gone on to play for Lombardi Trophies, and one of those losses was a throwaway in 2014 to Buffalo in the season finale.
“I’ve been a member of some great teams that have really paid the price months earlier to put you in a great position to succeed in December when the games are the most meaningful because there’s fewer of them,” said Brady.
To Brady and others, these games mean more. That puts an even greater onus on preparation, both big and small. That’s always been a hallmark of Bill Belichick coached teams. To have continued December success, it can’t change.
“When there’s a little bit more at stake and the ante moves up I think you compete a little bit harder,” said Belichick. “You prepare a little bit harder.”
“Coach [Belichick] would say ‘no days off.’ Just work hard every day, no matter what you’re doing,” added Brady.”Whether you’re on the field or not on the field, you've got to be putting the time in mentally or physically to get yourself physically, mentally, emotionally ready to play for those games.”
Despite their 8-game winning streak - one that has vaulted the Pats to the top of just about everyone’s power rankings (for whatever that’s worth) - this group doesn’t think it can get away with anything other than their best. Of course, that hasn’t always been the case this season. There certainly have been a couple of victories that weren’t the way the coaching staff drew ‘em up, but you can sense a certain level of disappointment from this players in the aftermath. They’ll take it, but they’re measuring themselves against something greater. That’s a belief ingrained into the important players and one that filters down the roster.
“…we’re a team that we can't afford to come in Wednesday and have a bad Wednesday,” said Devin McCourty. “Like we're not good enough to catch up on Thursday and Friday and then walk–through Saturday and think Sunday it's just going to turn on and we'll be ready to go. We have to be ready throughout the whole week. We need to have a good Wednesday, a good Thursday, string good practices together where we're going over everything that we might get, whether we've even had walk–throughs sometimes out there. But we get a lot of plays done, we get a lot of things talked about, communicated and that gives us a chance to win on Sunday. I think once you get in December it's about not slipping up any of those weeks.”
“We can’t afford anything less than our best,” said Brady. “I know it’s not going to be perfect out there, but you try to do as best you can, especially in the preparation so that you can be ready to anticipate and compete as hard as you can like this on a Monday Night Football game in December.”
If your best players think this way, how can the mid-level or bottom-end guys not approach their jobs the same way? It partly explains Brady’s success, but the team’s as well. And it’s why they’ll treat tonight’s game against the Dolphins as if it’s the most important game they’ll play all year. Because it is. And if the Patriots keep stacking them up, then the games keep getting bigger and more important. Until it’s Super Sunday and the whole world is watching you try and lay claim to another Lombardi.