Patriots

Brady, Pats look to continue unparalleled December success

Brady, Pats look to continue unparalleled December success

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.

Keionta Davis proving to be an intriguing pass-rush option for the Patriots

Keionta Davis proving to be an intriguing pass-rush option for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- After Keionta Davis folded up Eagles quarterback Joe Callahan for a sack in the waning seconds of Thursday's preseason game, he took a brief moment to himself. Rolling off of Callahan, Davis paused ever so quickly with his shoulders pinned on the turf before getting helped up. 

Davis couldn't be blamed for taking a short breather for himself, if that's what it was. He played more snaps than any other Patriots defender (54) -- a rare honor for a 6-foot-3, 280-pounder -- and it wasn't all in mop-up duty. 

The second-year defensive lineman started the game for the Patriots and ended it with a sack. He had 1.5 sacks on the night to go along with three more pressures and two stops in the running game. 

"Coaches just wanted me to get some reps," Davis said. "I gotta play. It's that simple."

The reason Davis has to play is that he hasn't played for quite some time. For ever player who may need a workload reduction this summer after having played a lot of football in 2017, there's a player like Davis who could use the extra work to knock off the layers of rust that have accumulated. 

Davis was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga last summer. He was a two-time All-American as a menace off the edge, and his talent was enough to reportedly coax Bill Belichick to Chattanooga to put Davis through a private workout. He had 31 sacks in college and was projected to be a mid-to-late round pick last spring, but he went unclaimed due to a bulging disc in his neck that was found in a physical at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

According to a story last May in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Davis had no idea anything was wrong. He finished the 2016 season as the Southern Conference defensive player of the year, and he participated in the Senior Bowl before getting the news.

The Patriots signed Davis last summer, but by the time the NFL's regular season rolled around, Davis was placed on the non-football injury/reserve list, ending his year before it began. 

That's what made Thursday night all the more special for the 24-year-old. His first sack in the fourth quarter was his first since last year's Senior Bowl. In the aftermath, he clapped his hands and looked up to the sky.

"It was relief," he said. "I didn't want to celebrate. I still got work to do, man. I'm not really trying to celebrate right now . . . Let me get through the rest of camp. More work to be done."

Davis' second sack (he was only credited with half sack on the play) came after powering back guard Darrell Green en route to his target. 

On both plays, it appeared that Davis was working as a three-technique -- off the outside shoulder of the offensive guard in front of him. Though he arrived to the Patriots as a true edge defender, listed at 260 pounds at the time, Davis has bulked up and spent plenty of time working from the interior this summer. 

"There's been a learning curve," he said. "I did put on some weight, up to 280 now, but my body feels great. I don't feel a difference. Moving inside everything moves a little bit quicker. It's something I haven't done before, but I'm asked to do it so I try to go in there and master it the best I can."

With good quickness and long arms, Davis is a natural fit to work against stubbier guards and centers. Especially in New England, where Trey Flowers -- another long-armed end -- has had great success as a disruptor from the inside. 

"I'm quicker than most guys on the inside" Davis said. "Got good length, I feel like. I think it uses my strengths to the best of my ability. And then I'm just learning from the guys who play inside. Malcolm Brown. Lawrence Guy's really helped whenever I'm inside. They give me the best tips they can."

For all the learning he did during his season off, for all the tutoring he's received from the veterans around him, playing time will continue to be critical.

Belichick indicated on Friday that while he's impressed by what Davis has done to this point, his young pass-rusher needs to log more minutes of game action. 

"He still has a long way to go," Belichick said. "He still has a lot of things he needs to improve on and refine and react quicker to and so forth, but that comes from not having actively played football for a year, or a little more than a year . . . 

"Hopefully those things will come back to him and his reactions and all will continue to improve. He's done a good job. He's in good condition. He's worked hard. I like what he's been doing."

Late on Thursday night inside the Patriots locker room, Davis entertained questions from multiple reporters, smiling often as he took his time with each. Even though he knew the game's score meant nothing, even though he said he knew he had plenty of work to do to earn a roster spot, he appeared to be enjoying the moment.

He was a long way from last year. 

"It definitely wasn't promised, and they definitely took a chance on me," Davis said. "Everything just worked out. I just want to show my gratitude by going out there and playing hard, competing. Whatever role they put me in, I'll try to do my best."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE