FOXBORO, MA — New England ended their five game losing streak to Miami on Saturday, and thanks to the New York Giants victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday the Patriots have clinched a playoff berth and will make their first postseason appearance in three years.
Their win over Miami also has them sitting in first place in the AFC East, and with their bye week this week the players will have the week off to spend with their families before they will have to return on Thursday for workouts, and then Friday when they will return to practice. Having an opportunity to go home for the holidays is something that the players have to be happy about, and emotions also have to be high considering that the team currently sits at 10-5 and unlike the past couple years they have been able to enjoy success.
Their final regular season game will be played on the road January 6th against the Carolina Panthers, and despite having clinched a postseason appearance head coach Bill Belichick still plans on taking a day-to-day approach, and isn’t planning to look past the Panthers who are a team he expects to play his team very tough.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do and I think that there are a number of areas of our game that need to be improved and need to be addressed as well as our preparations coming up for Carolina,” said Belichick. “I think one of the things that we’ve done a good job of the last five weeks is really taking it day-to-day and week-to-week, and I think that’s the mode we need to stay in.”
“We need to take it day-to-day and we need to do what we can do to get ready for Carolina.”
For Belichick it is his first winning season as head coach of the Patriots after his 5-11 record last year in his first season with New England. He appears to be enjoying the ride his team is taking him on this season despite all the controversy that has surrounded it, from the quarterback situation, to wide receiver Terry Glenn, and many other problems the team has faced. Winning has certainly made life a little easier, but don’t expect him to enjoy it too much. He’ll be the first to tell you that.
“I enjoy [winning] a little bit the night of the game or the day after the game,” said Belichick. “I think by the next day, you’ve got to look forward to the next challenge. You’d love to be able to sit back and take it in all week, but I just can’t afford to.”
“I think the successful teams that I’ve been around, they’ve had a day-to-day approach. A day-to-day, week-to-week approach. How can we win on Sunday? By having a good practice on Wednesday. How can we do better on Sunday? By having a good practice on Thursday. You just keep chopping wood as they say.”
“We got off to a slow start (0-2) and that’s never anything you want to happen, but maybe one of the residual benefits from that is that when you’re in that situation, you’re literally day-to-day. You’re hour-to-hour. And we’ve been able to maintain that, especially the last five weeks. If we can keep doing that, I think that will serve us better than anything else will.”
After their 5-11 season last year, the Patriots obviously finished at near the bottom of the league in the standings because of their record. When the schedule makers sit down to make the schedule, generally the teams that they feel aren’t very good usually end up with a bye week at the end of their season. Had the events of September 11th not occurred and pushed back the games in week 2 of this year, as well as the Patriots not making the playoffs this season, they would have been long since packed and getting ready for next year at this point.
That’s something that coaches and players take personally, although they may not always want to admit it. The thought, however, did cross Belichick’s mind.
“We noticed that,” said Belichick. “Maybe it’s a little bit in the back of everybody’s mind. If that’s what they think of us, maybe we can show them a little different.”
“But in the end, you’ve got 16 games and you play them when they’re scheduled, at home, away, at night, Monday night, Thursday night, Saturday, whenever they are. In the end, it all washes out.”
For now he’ll have the next few days off to spend with his family, and then along with his players will return to prepare for their final game of the season against the Panthers later in the week. Although New England has clinched a playoff berth, it will be at least another week before fans will have an idea who that postseason opponent will be.
The fact they’ve made it to this point has to leave everyone with a smile on their face, and hopefully it makes this time off for both Belichick and his players more enjoyable.