Pa­tri­ots look to con­tinue De­cem­ber dom­i­nance against Vik­ings

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - NFL -

FOXBOR­OUGH, Mass. — The month of De­cem­ber has been a spe­cial time for the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots dur­ing 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 New Eng­land’s 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 reg­u­larsea­son games played on or af­ter Thanks­giv­ing.

Three of their fi­nal five games are at home, be­gin­ning with Sun­day’s matchup with Min­ne­sota.

But even af­ter the Pa­tri­ots (8-3) earned their lat­est postTurkey Day win last week over the Jets, Slater said the mes­sage com­ing from Belichick and Brady is far from a state of con­tent­ment.

“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.

Min­ne­sota (6-4-1) has lost four straight reg­u­lar-season meet­ings with New Eng­land, 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 five­time Su­per Bowl cham­pion. Though Zim­mer’s teams have lost three of four games against the Pa­tri­ots, with the Vik­ings in 2014, as the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for Cincin­nati in 2010 and as the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for Dal­las in 2003, the Ben­gals beat New Eng­land 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.

Michael Dwyer / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady passes un­der pres­sure from the Chiefs in an Oct. 14 game.

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