It has been a bittersweet holiday season for Andre Carter. His wife, Bethany, and their two children live near Los Angeles, and for 6- year-old Quincy, Christmas can be one of the best times of the year.

Quincy’s father is on the opposite coast, though. A job opportunity recently presented itself, much too good to pass up, but one that comes with travel and time commitments far away from his native California. So while Carter’s family was enjoying Christmas in the warm, comfortable confines of home, he was some 3,000 miles away.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Carter. “I’ve got an amazing wife and healthy kids. I think my wife knew the love that I have for this organization, and she said, ‘Hey baby, just give them all you got.’ This place holds a lot of special meaning.

“I’m definitely blessed for the holidays. This is a great time of year and I definitely have a lot to be thankful for: being healthy, being alive, and playing my dream for 13 years.”

Lucky 13 has come courtesy of the New England Patriots, who signed Carter Oct. 23, seven games into the season. Stung by season-ending injuries early in the year to defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, the Patriots needed help, and turned to Carter, who spent the 2011 season with the team. He signed after that season with Oakland, and was still with the Raiders in August during training camp before being released.

But Carter kept himself in shape, just in case. And when the Patriots reached a point of “in case of emergency, break glass,” Carter happily became their man.

“If you never said a word to him and just watched what he does, he’d be a great example and a great role model,” said coach Bill Belichick. “You can see why he’s played 13 years in the league.

“He’s a smart guy, he works hard, and he really cares. I think that’s certainly been a good influence on our team — at the position he plays and all the other ones. It’s good for the coaches, too. He’s just a good guy to have on your team, good guy to be around.”

The gregarious Carter, 34, is one of the more pleasant people in the Patriots locker room. Even though he had spent only one season with the team, his re-signing played out like the longawaited return of a best friend, with greetings, hugs, and handshakes.

It’s part of Carter’s charm. At 6-feet-4 inches, 260 pounds, he is physically intimidating — until he flashes his smile, which is frequently. He’s also an experienced NFL veteran, aware of what’s important, what’s required, and what’s at stake.

He’s also studious.

“He’s very professional,” said Belichick. “He’s the first one in the meeting, sitting in the front row, has his notebook open before anybody — you would think he’s a rookie free agent.

“He’s always ready to go. He trains very hard, he’s a very well-conditioned athlete. He works very hard at the physical training, the mental training, he’s on top of his assignments, and he works well with his teammates.”

Carter has made an impact, much as he did in his 2011 Pro Bowl season, when he had 10 sacks before missing the final two regular season games and the playoffs with an injury. Appearing this season in each of the Patriots’ past eight games, Carter has two sacks.

Between the time Carter was released by the Raiders and re-signed with the Patriots, he explored some possibilities for life after football. Coaching could be in his future, or commentating. But Carter couldn’t shake what he kept hearing from his coaches and teammates in Oakland: “You still have a lot left, there’s no way you’re done.”

He was injured during the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl in 2011, but another postseason win could come this season. The Patriots have won the AFC East and will host at least one playoff game, following Sunday’s regular-season finale at home against Buffalo.

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