December 10, 2012

Pats turn up heat in December

This month brings out the best in New England, and it’s a big test Monday as Houston rolls into town.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Ah, there's nothing like playing a big game in December, right?

Tom Brady
click image to enlarge

The Patriots have enjoyed a 22-1 record in Foxborough in December since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback.

The Associated Press

Arian Foster
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Arian Foster leads the NFL with 15 touchdowns and poses perhaps the biggest challenge yet for an oft-times inconsistent Patriots defense.

The Associated Press

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TEXANS (11-1) AT PATRIOTS (9-3)

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Monday

SERIES RECORD: Patriots lead 2-1

LAST MEETING: Texans beat Patriots 34-27, Jan. 3, 2010

LAST WEEK: Texans beat Titans 24-10; Patriots beat Dolphins 23-16

TEXANS OFFENSE: Overall - 4, rush - 6, pass -- 10

TEXANS DEFENSE: Overall -- 6, rush --2, pass -- 19

PATRIOTS OFFENSE: Overall -- 1, rush -- 8, pass -- 6

PATRIOTS DEFENSE: Overall -- 2, rush -- 9, pass -- 29

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: Big game for AFC postseason seeding with Texans currently first and Patriots third. ... Both teams on six-game winning streaks. Two of Texans' last three victories came in overtime. Patriots have one overtime win in that span. ... Texans only unbeaten team on road, 6-0. Patriots won past 19 home games in December since 30-17 loss Dec. 22, 2002 to New York Jets. ... Patriots lead NFL with plus-24 turnover differential, Texans tied for second at plus-14. ...

Houston clinches at least a tie in the AFC South with win over New England. ... J.J. Watt leads AFC with 15 sacks. ... Arian Foster tops NFL with 15 touchdowns, first in AFC with 1,102 yards rushing. ... In last game, Texans had season-high six sacks, one by Watt, and franchise-record six takeaways. ... Texans banged up in secondary with nickel cornerback Brice McCain going on injured reserve this week, top CB Johnathan Joseph having missed past two games and Alan Ball having missed last game. ... Texans have protected QB Matt Schaub well, allowing 15 sacks, tied for fewest in NFL with New York Giants. ...

Patriots have clinched AFC East and need one win for 10th straight season with at least 10 victories. San Francisco 49ers are only team to do that so far with 16 consecutive 10-win seasons from 1983-98. ... Patriots 19-1 in last four games of season during past five years. ... Wes Welker leads NFL with 92 receptions. With eight more catches, Welker will become first NFL player with five 100-reception seasons. ... Patriots lead league with 35.8 points and 426.3 yards per game but coming off one of weakest offensive performances with 23 points and 321 yards. ...

Tom Brady threw just his fourth interception last Sunday and first in six games. ... DE Trevor Scott had two sacks against Miami as replacement for injured Chandler Jones and suspended Jermaine Cunningham.

-- The Associated Press

HOT WHEN IT’S COLD

Going into Monday’s game, the Patriots have:

Won 12 consecutive December games (tied for third in NFL history)

Won 19 consecutive December home games (20-1 overall since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002)

Gone an NFL-best 42-5 in December games since 2001 (three of the losses at Miami, two by one point)

And there's no NFL team that's better at playing in December than the New England Patriots.

The Patriots have won 12 consecutive games in December, third-best all-time in NFL history. That streak will be tested Monday night when the Houston Texans come visiting.

The folks at ESPN have to be drooling over this one:

Both teams have won six in a row. The Texans are 11-1, seeded first in the AFC. The Patriots are 9-3, currently seeded third. Houston has one of the league's top defenses, led by end J.J. Watt and his 15 1/2 sacks; the Patriots have the league's most prolific offense, led by quarterback Tom Brady.

Asked if this game would provide a measuring stick for the Patriots, Brady said, "They're a great football team so any time you play the best you want to see how you match up."

The fact that the game is at Gillette Stadium should give the Patriots a boost.

New England has a 22-1 record at home in December since Brady became the starting quarterback, winning their last 19 at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002. The lone loss? A 30-17 decision to the New York Jets on Dec. 22, 2002, a loss that knocked the then-Super Bowl-defending Patriots out of playoff contention.

But then, as Brady said in his weekly press conference last Wednesday, December is the time of year you want to be playing your best.

"I think the mark of our teams over the years has been (that) we've improved as the season has gone along," said Brady. "December is the last month to really improve Coach (Bill Belichick) puts pressure on us in practice every day to improve to get better and not to make the same mistakes and to learn from our mistakes.

"I think we as a team have responded to that and played well. That's what's important this time of the year: To not make the same mistakes we were making in September and to play our best football. This will be a great week to see if we can accomplish that."

The Patriots have always had a single-minded approach to football: Concentrate strictly on the next opponent and nothing else. They've been faced with distractions, both personally and organizationally, and have almost always been able to overcome them.

Wide receiver Donte Stallworth, who played the 2007 season with New England and re-signed with them last Tuesday, said Belichick doesn't let the Patriots consider anything other than what's in front of them.

"He doesn't allow his players to look ahead to the future," said Stallworth on Wednesday. "Even the immediate future. He doesn't allow us, even today, to look toward Friday's practice. It's about today's preparation, taking it day by day and not focusing on over-shooting your goal.

"And your goal every day is to focus on that particular day, that particular meeting, that particular practice. I think that has a lot to do with it."

Certainly every NFL team attempts this approach. But the Patriots have mastered it because the players -- new or veteran -- have bought into Belichick's philosophy.

"It's all about leadership," said cornerback Kyle Arrington, in his fourth season with the Patriots. "Guys like Tom, Vince (Wilfork), (Jerod) Mayo. And obviously it starts at the top with Bill. We just try our best as players to follow suit."

And they've done a pretty good job. Under Belichick, the Patriots record in December -- home or away -- is 44-7, the best December record among head coaches with one team in NFL history. The current 12-game December winning streak ties their own streak from 2006-08. A win Monday night ties them with Dallas (1968-72) for second all-time, behind San Diego, which won 18 consecutive December games from 2006-09.

To do that, the Patriots know they have to do all the little things right against a team many consider the best in the AFC -- possibly the NFL -- so far.

"We work on fundamentals from Day One," said Arrington. "(Offseason) workouts, training camp, even now. Even this far into the season we're working on fundamentals. This is the time when we want to be playing of best ball.

"By no means has it been perfect or will it really ever be perfect. But it doesn't stop us from striving for it." 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

 

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