by Christopher Price
It got them home-field advantage and a spot in the record books. But beginning Thursday, 16-0 means next to nothing for the Patriots.
When they return to work that morning to begin preparation for their AFC Divisional Playoff opponent — whether it’s Pittsburgh, Jacksonville or Tennessee — expect the giddiness and excitement from Saturday night’s record-setting win to be squarely in the rearview mirror.
“There are plenty of things in the game that we can improve on and we can do better,” Head Coach Bill Belichick said a day after the 38-35 win over the Giants that allowed New England to become the only team in NFL history to finish the regular season with a 16-0 record.
“When you give up 35 points on defense and special teams, that’s not where you want to be. That’s not going to win every game for you in this league, that’s for sure.”
While they don’t know who’ll they’ll play until the end of this weekend, there’s enough general points of emphasis to keep them busy between now and then, including red zone defense. After making some headway over the previous three weeks — where they held the Steelers, Jets and Dolphins 0-for-9 in touchdown chances inside their 20 — the Patriots appeared to regress Saturday against the Giants. New York converted on all four times with touchdowns when they got into the New England red zone.
“We’ll make those corrections and identify them and try to improve them,” Belichick said. “The only difference is we have a couple of extra days this week before we actually come back to practice and go to work, and that’s a little bit longer than we normally do. But, it’s really still the same process.”
Those couple of extra days could make all the difference. With Wild Card Weekend off, the Patriots have time on their side, and historically, that edge has proven to be invaluable: Under Belichick, New England is 10-2 overall when they have two weeks to prepare, including 5-0 in the postseason.
And, the bye week will allow several players the chance to heal up, especially starting offensive linemen Stephen Neal (right guard) and Nick Kaczur (right tackle), and tight end Kyle Brady. The absence of all three was felt dramatically Saturday night — even though the Patriots allowed just one sack, the Giants pass rush was able to get sustained pressure on quarterback Tom Brady.
In addition, they’ll be home — the Patriots have never lost a home playoff game with Belichick at the helm, and the franchise has lost just one postseason home game in its history.
“We know what the situation is in the playoffs,” Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said Sunday morning. “We’ve been there before. Lose and go home, win and keep playing.”
Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at [email protected].