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Patriots ready for the post-Thanksgiving push to begin this weekend

11.23.11 at 3:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It has been a constant theme around Gillette Stadium for several seasons — the real season starts after Thanksgiving.

Since 2001, New England has compiled an NFL-best 61-15 (.803) record in games after Thanksgiving. Only once during that time have the Patriots played sub-.500 football after Thanksgiving: 2009, when they split their last six regular-season games and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Baltimore, 33-14.

Most of the time, when the Patriots have enjoyed success late in the regular season and into the playoffs, the seeds for greatness have been planted in November: In their three Super Bowl years (2001, 2003 and 2004), New England was a combined 33-2 after Nov. 1, with only one of those losses in three seasons coming after Thanksgiving. (Those teams were a combined 25-1 after Thanksgiving.)

This year’€™s Patriots kick off the post-Thanksgiving stretch this year on Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Asked if this year’€™s team was ready, quarterback Tom Brady would only acknowledge that the push toward the postseason will begin against a difficult Eagles team.

‘€œI think this game will … this is a very important game for us,’€ he said. ‘€œWe’€™re putting it all into this week. We have a lot on the line. It’€™s a very good team. They’€™re skilled at every position. Going on the road and trying to win a really tough game on the road at the most important time of the year — that says a lot for what we’€™re looking for as a team.

‘€œThis is the time of year when it’€™s most important,’€ Brady added. ‘€œThere aren’€™t a lot of games left.

It’€™s not only the case in New England — most teams who raise the Lombardi Trophy in February start that push toward greatness shortly after the Thanksgiving meal is cleared away. As a group, the last six Super Bowl winners compiled a 42-15 (.737) record following Thanksgiving, including the playoffs. Last year, the Packers were 7-3 after Thanksgiving, with their three losses by a combined 11 points (including a 31-27 defeat to the Patriots on Dec. 19.). As a group, here’€™s a look at the last six Super Bowl champions and their post-Thanksgiving records:

‘€¢2010: Packers, 7-3 (six-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2009: Saints, 6-3 (three-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2008: Steelers, 7-1 (four-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2007: Giants, 7-3 (four-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2006: Colts, 7-3 (five-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2005: Steelers, 8-2 (eight-game winning streak to end the season).

Of course, a great late season push doesn’€™t always mean postseason glory. Last year, the Patriots stormed into the playoffs with wins in their final six regular-season games by an average score of 38-12 … and followed that up with a season-ending defeat to the Jets in their only playoff game.

But a look at their schedule reveals that this New England is at least well positioned for a post-Thanksgiving bounce. New England plays Philadelphia (4-6), Indianapolis (0-10), Washington (3-7), Denver (5-5), Miami (3-7) and Buffalo (5-5), a group of opponents that have a combined record of 20-40 (.333). Among playoff contenders, it is the easiest stretch of games between now and the end of the regular season.

In truth, the most compelling matchup left for the Patriots could be this week when the travel to meet the Eagles, who went to Jersey last week and surprised the Giants. Stocked with terrific individual talent on both sides of the ball, they have struggled to mesh, and now face the prospect of having to win out down the stretch just to have a shot at the postseason.

‘€œWhen you play a tough team, on the road, that came off one of the biggest wins of their season — we have everything we could ask for,’€ Brady said.

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