FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The goal is to improve.

Every year, no matter how the New England Patriots begin the season, the mantra coming out of their locker room in Gillette Stadium is that they’ve got to get better, that they’ve got to be playing their best ball when the games count most.

History shows us that they’ve become pretty good at doing that.

Since 2010 the Patriots are 31-3 in the second half of the season. Just think about that. In four years the Patriots have lost just three times in the second half of those seasons. And two of those losses came last year – both by the score of 24-20, at Carolina and at Miami.

No one else is even close to that margin of success. The Green Bay Packers are next at 23-10-1.

This year, the Patriots have begun their annual surge with two impressive wins: 43-21 over Denver and 42-20 at Indianapolis.

They are playing as well as they have in many years, averaging over 40 points a game offensively in a six-game winning streak that has carried them to an 8-2 record entering Sunday’s game with the stout Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. They are in control of not only the AFC East, which they have won the last five years, but also the entire AFC, owning victories over each of the other division leaders.

So all this begs the obvious question: As impressive as the Patriots have appeared recently, can they get any better? Are they peaking too soon?

We’ve obviously seen this in the past, when New England surges to another AFC East title on another appearance in the AFC championship game or Super Bowl, only to have the season end in disappointment.

So what will make this season different?

Why are the Patriots relaxed and confident these days?

“We haven’t done anything yet,” said Matthew Slater, New England’s superb special teams player. “What’s eight games going to get us? Nothing. That’s got to continue to be our motivation.

“We’ve come close here the last several years but it really doesn’t mean anything unless you’re able to continue to have success down the stretch. So that’s our motivation.”

See, the Patriots never think they’re playing their best.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are always talking about improving from game to game. And everyone else falls in line.

As good as they’re playing right now, the Patriots feel they can all get better.

“It’s funny,” said Devin McCourty, the versatile safety, “we can read all the newspaper clippings and watch TV, but if we just sit in one Monday meeting after a game, we will find out that we have 12 to 15 things in this past game that Bill tells us, as soon as we sit in the meeting, that we (were) terrible at and that we need to fix. I think from the outside it looks like we have nothing to fix, but as soon as we get in that meeting Bill has a list of stuff that we didn’t do well in the game.”

So as good as the Patriots looked last Sunday, rolling up nearly 250 yards rushing against the Colts, Belichick had a message for them on Monday morning.

“We got in there on Monday and Bill had everything that we needed to work on right away,” said McCourty.

“It’s like that was the first thing we spoke about in the meeting, not how great we were or how good. It was X, Y and Z, we didn’t do well and if we don’t do it well next week, there’s a chance we will lose.”

Humble Pie. That’s what the Patriots call it. No matter how good you are, you can be sure that Belichick and his staff are going to find a way to make you know that you have a lot to work on. No one is exempt.

Michael Hoomanawanui, the tight end, was asked how you know when you’ve stopped getting better.

“You start losing,” he said, with a straight face. “And that’s not the goal by any means.”

The Patriots will look to get better against the Lions on Sunday and even better the following week against the Green Bay Packers.

They don’t feel they’re anywhere near their best just yet.

“There’s a lot left,” said Hoomanawanui. “Each week we want to get better and we want to peak at the end of the season, whenever that is.

“We know, we watch the film and there’s a lot of areas we can still get better at. We’ve got away with some things here and there and eventually that luck’s going to run out. So we’ve got to get better.”

Historically – again – they’ve done that. And the later into the season, the better they’ve played.

Since 2001, when Brady took over from Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots are 80-20 in games played from Thanksgiving Day on. That’s winning 80 percent of those games. Pittsburgh is next with 63 wins.

All that is nice. But the Patriots know those numbers mean nothing if they don’t finish right this year.

“Now is not the time to get complacent or over-anxious,” said Slater. “We need to take it one game at a time.”