- Jeremy Lundblad, ESPN Stats and Information
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Don't panic just yet, Patriots fans.
Sure, New England has suffered difficult losses in prime time twice in the past three weeks. But there's reason for hope. Just let history reassure you.
December is finally here, and that couldn't be better news for the folks in Foxborough. No month has been kinder to the Patriots this decade.
Dating back to 2006, the Patriots have won 12 straight games in December. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the third-longest such streak in NFL history. With a win Sunday, they would tie the Cowboys' streak of 13 straight December wins that spanned from 1968 to 1972. The Chargers, with 14 straight wins, are in the midst of the longest streak, one they figure to extend this week against the Browns.
New England's current streak is just part of a larger pattern of December success this decade. Since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots are 32-6 in December, easily the best record in the NFL (the Steelers are next at 29-11). Even that record doesn't tell the whole story. The Patriots were just 8-4 in December over Belichick's first three seasons. Since 2003, they are an incredible 24-2 in December and have outscored opponents 741-375.
Quite simply, when the games start to matter most, the Patriots raise their game to an unprecedented level. Call it a December dynasty.
Even last season, entering December at 7-5 and still reeling from the Tom Brady injury, Belichick's squad rose to the occasion. The Patriots won all four of their remaining games, including three on the road. However, they ultimately joined the 1985 Broncos as the only 11-win teams in the last 30 years to miss out on the playoffs.
With a two-game cushion, the Patriots have already ensured that 11 wins will get them in the playoffs this season. They control their own destiny, and the remaining schedule is working in their favor.
New England's upcoming opponents currently stand at a combined 24-31, giving the Patriots the easiest remaining schedule in the AFC East. No AFC playoff contenders have a tougher road than the division rival Jets and Dolphins. Among the eight teams currently above .500, only the Ravens and Steelers have an easier path ahead than the Patriots.
That's not to say there aren't causes for trepidation. Indeed, all this talk of December success comes with one strange caveat. While the Patriots have won 25 of their last 27 in December, both losses came in Miami, where the Patriots play on Sunday.
You have to go back to Dec. 10, 2006, to find the last New England loss in the final month of the year. The Patriots never even made it into the red zone in a 21-0 drubbing in Miami. Prior to that was a 2004 battle that saw the Dolphins climb back from an 11-point deficit in the final four minutes of the game.
Under Belichick, the Patriots are 0-2 in Miami in December. Isn't it supposed to be the warm-weather teams that struggle on the road in December?
Those two losses have one thing in common: Tom Brady. In the 2004 game, Brady tied a career-high with four interceptions. Two years later, he threw for just 78 yards against Miami in one of his worst games as a pro. Combined, Brady has a 55.2 passer rating in Miami in December.
History aside, there are more immediate concerns that the Patriots will have to overcome in order to continue their December success.
In the last three weeks, the Patriots have suffered two of the most disheartening losses of the Belichick era. Indeed, there are some sobering numbers to behold.
The Patriots are 1-4 on the road for the first time since 2000, Belichick's first season. Even the lone "road" win came against the Buccaneers in front of a largely pro-Patriots crowd in London. In fairness, all four losses have come in hostile environments against undefeated teams.
But needing to run the table just to crack .500 on the road, history is not on the Patriots' side. Last year, the Cardinals became the first team to play in the Super Bowl with a losing road record. No such team has ever actually won the whole thing.
The Patriots' struggling pass defense takes some of the blame for their road struggles. In past years, the Patriots have had success when opponents have been forced to air it out. Over Belichick's first nine seasons, the Patriots were 20-5 when opponents went over 300 yards passing. This season, they are 0-3. Unlike in years past, the 2009 Patriots can't seem to win without shutting down the opponent's passing game.
In their seven wins, the Patriots are allowing only 157 passing yards per game and opposing quarterbacks are completing less than half their passes. Contrast that with the team's four losses: The Patriots are allowing over 285 passing yards per game and opposing quarterbacks have combined for a 116.2 passer rating.
This isn't the first time the Patriots have faced questions heading into December. Yet each year the Patriots find a way to dominate down the stretch, winning the games they have to win.
Can they do it again? Can they prove that the Patriots era isn't over yet?
It all starts with continuing their December dynasty.
Jeremy Lundblad is a researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.
The Patriots are looking to continue their December dominance.