By Gregory Hunt
In 2015, the New England Patriots finished with a 12-4 record for the fourth season in a row and qualified for the playoffs for the 13th time in 15 years. But unlike previous seasons in which the Patriots were playing their best football in December and January, this season features a New England team that has lost four of its last six games. The last of those losses was a lackluster 20-10 effort against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.
Although the Patriots are limping into the postseason this year, members of the team are not particularly concerned. A number of players spoke to the media on Tuesday, and they were unanimous in wanting to put the regular season behind them and focus on playing their best football going forward. Some also spoke about how the team plans to use its bye week before hosting a Division Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16.
Slater feels the team has a lot to prove
"There's a lot of football yet to be played, and there's a lot for us to play for," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Obviously, we don't feel as if we've done anything, yet. We still feel we have a lot left to prove, so we're excited about the challenge. We don't know who we're going to play, it could be one of three teams, so the whole [bye] week is going to be about us. It's going to be about getting back to the basics, finding ways to execute better, doing the little things a little bit better. From there, once we find out who we're playing, it will be more about game plan and things of that nature."
Freeny won't get too high or too low
"Every week we know there's a new game. We can't dwell on the last game or look too far ahead," said linebacker Jonathan Freeny, who missed to last three games of the regular season with a hand injury but may be back for the playoffs. "We can't get too high on ourselves or too low on ourselves. We just gotta keep working and put our heads done and prepare for the team in front of us instead of looking back or looking too far ahead."
Hicks appreciates where the team is
You don't know who you're gonna play and you don't know what the future's gonna hold, but you know that there are things you can get better at as a team, so that's what you need to focus on," said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who also asserted that he harbored no negative feelings about the team "backing into" the playoffs. "You work all year to get to this point, and you gotta appreciate where you're at when you're there," he said.
Looking ahead to the Divisional Playoffs
New England's first playoff game will be against either the third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals (12-4), the fourth-seeded Houston Texans (9-7), or the fifth-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (11-5). The Bengals are hosting the sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) in the Wild Card round on January 9. Should the Bengals will, they will come to Gillette Stadium for the Divisional round. Otherwise, the Patriots will face the winner of the Chiefs/Texans game at NRG Stadium in Houston. Even though they are the lower seeds, the Steelers and Chiefs are both favored to win their games.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.
for more features.