Patriots entering peak time
December typically has brought out best in Brady, Belichick
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The month of December has been a special time for the Patriots in the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era.
Since the pair arrived in 2000, the Patriots are 64-13 during the final month of the regular season. Brady has been the starter for all but six of those victories — four during his rookie season in 2000 and two in 2008, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.
Still, the 41-year-old quarterback’s 58 December wins are the most in NFL history. His .843 winning percentage is second-best among quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era. Roger Staubach (17-3, .850) is first.
Patriots special teams captain Matt Slater is one of the few players left on the Patriots’ roster with enough tenure to appreciate that run and the emphasis Belichick puts on this portion of the season.
“As coach says, ‘Football season starts after Thanksgiving,’ ” Slater said.
Just for good measure, Brady is 75-18 in regular-season games played on or after Thanksgiving.
Three of the Patriots’ final five games are at home, beginning with Sunday’s matchup with the Vikings. But even after the Patriots (8-3) earned their latest postThanksgiving win last week over the Jets, Slater said the team is in far from a contented state.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Slater said. “I think it was a step in the right direction.”
That’s not good news for a Vikings team that is in position to make the playoffs but is also a few losses away from peering in from the outside.
The Vikings (6-4-1) have lost four straight regular-season meetings with the Patriots, though the teams haven’t met since 2014. The Vikings have won twice at New England, but their last victory was in 2000 in Belichick’s first year.
Running back Dalvin Cook said the Vikings are trying to concentrate on themselves and not the Patriots’ mystique .
“We’re going to get caught up in us playing good football, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on,” he said. “Everybody can go into the whole thing of ‘New England this.’ We respect Tom, we respect the Patriots, we respect everything they’ve got going. But it’s more about us at this point, about how we’re playing football and about just the little things we’re doing. We’ve got to go in and focus on those.”
Tough on Tom
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s defenses have had some success in minimizing Brady’s impact in some matchups against the five-time Super Bowl champion. Though Zimmer’s teams have lost three of four games against the Patriots — with the Vikings in 2014, when he was Bengals’ defensive coordinator in 2010, and when he was the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator in 2003 — the Bengals beat the Patriots 13-6 in 2013 with Zimmer in charge of the defense.
Over those four games, Brady has been intercepted only once, but his average against Zimmer’s defenses is only 204 passing yards and one touchdown with a 56.3 percent completion rate.
The game at New England for the Vikings is sandwiched between matchups with the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, so Zimmer, his staff and his players have had their hands full lately and will continue to into the next month.
“Like Belichick said about Rodgers,” Zimmer said of Brady, “I’m glad he’s not in our division.”
Sunday will be a reunion of sorts for Patriots receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who spent the first four years of his career with the Vikings (2013-16) before being signed by the Raiders the following year.
Patterson had a career-high four touchdown catches and was used out of the backfield as a rookie in 2013. But he developed a reputation as bad route-runner and barely got any time at receiver in his second and third seasons in Minnesota.
He bounced back and had a career-best 52 catches during his final season in 2016.
“They’re using him way better than we did,” said Zimmer, who coached Patterson for three seasons beginning in 2014. “I think they use him in a number of different ways. I mean, it’s good to see for him. I wish we would have used him a little bit better.”
Running back Dalvin Cook says the Vikings are tuning out talk of the Patriots’ prowess entering Sunday.