'Tis the season, especially for Patriots fans. While the holiday season generally gives plenty of reason for joy in its own right, New England's winning ways following Thanksgiving under Bill Belichick since 2001 are an extra gift for those throughout Patriots Nation.
The Patriots got things moving in that direction for 2006 with an impressive if error-filled 17-13 win over the Bears Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium, supposedly the best the NFC has to offer right now. The Patriots could be well on their way to another impressive late season run, something that has become commonplace in New England in recent memory.
From 2001-2005 New England had an NFL best 33-6 record after Thanksgiving for an .846 winning percentage. That's well ahead of Pittsburgh's 29-10 mark and Miami's 20-11.
Not surprisingly, though, the tunnel-minded Belichick isn't willing to discuss the late season success during his tenure while heading into the later part of the current campaign.
"I don't know. We'll see how it is this year after Thanksgiving," Belichick responded when asked about the Patriots' history of post-Thanksgiving success. "That is the only thing that really matters."
But Belichick does believe the impressive mark ties into the team's overall building philosophy throughout the season.
"I think that one of the ways we try to approach our season, is just improving every week," Belichick said. "And so I think if you can continue to improve, hopefully you'll play better as you move on. That is definitely a big theme for us, not just this week or last week but every week.
"I guess that is what I would say is the common theme in our season and the way we try to coach and play the games -- it would be to continually try to improve on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. It doesn't always work out that way, but that is the intent. That is the emphasis."
Like their even-keeled coach, the players also prefer to focus on the week at hand and ignore their previous late season success stories.
"It's all different every year," Tom Brady said. "Last year we were a second-tier team. We weren't at the top. There's still a lot to play out this year. There are still (five) regular season games left. And I hope we end up being one of those teams that's one of the upper echelon teams. But that comes through playing well and that comes through playing well down the stretch. We'll see if that's what we're made of."
Last year's playoff loss in Denver and surprisingly abrupt error-filled end to the season aside, New England did play well down the regular season stretch. It's something the players hope to recreate this year on another potential run toward a return to postseason glory. Standards in New England are high and the 2006 Patriots just hope to live up to them through a late season run that includes plenty of winnable games against Tennessee, Houston and Detroit as well as tough trips to Miami and Jacksonville.
New England (8-3) knows the first two months mean nothing if the team can't close out the season as well as it has in the past. Sunday's win over the Bears was the first step in that direction, even if New England did turn the ball over five times. They made the plays they had to -- including recouping four turnovers of their own and touchdowns for Benjamin Watson and Laurence Maroney - to win and move forward on their late season march. That march continues this week against the Lions in Foxborough.
"It always comes down to how well you perform at the end of the season," Matt Light said recently. "That's why we try to build every week to put ourselves in position to make a good run at it."
Let the holiday season race begin.