Chargers, Eagles love December; Raiders are haters
The holiday season has been nothing but festive for the San Diego Chargers in recent years. Same thing, pretty much, for the Philadelphia Eagles. New England, as you might expect, has the decade’s best record in December and January regular-season games.
Dallas and Oakland wouldn’t mind skipping the 12th month altogether. And they’ve done a whole lot better than the Lions (10 wins) and Browns (12) as the year winds down.
Will the past be prologue for NFL teams down the stretch this season?
San Diego certainly hopes so. The Chargers’ results have been as pleasant as the weather at home – they haven’t lost a December game since 2005.
That’s 15 straight victories and counting, a little surprising considering the Chargers haven’t gotten to the Super Bowl in that span. And considering how coach Norv Turner often is maligned, even though he’s 28-16 in San Diego, with two AFC West titles.
“The thing I like best about us is that we’re addressing what we have to do on a week-to-week basis,” Turner says. “And if you want to be a team that has a chance to have success in December and January, you have to be ready to play whatever type of game presents itself.”
Philly is 31-15 in December and January non-playoff contests since 1999, part of the reason coach Andy Reid received a contract extension through 2013 this week.
“It’s that time of the year, that last quarter,” Reid says. “If you’re still in the hunt, things get a little faster, guys play a little faster and so on. That’s the nature of the game. That’s where we’re at. It’s important that we keep practicing the way we’ve been practicing and preparing the way we’ve been preparing. The guys have been very focused the last few weeks.”
It seems somewhat odd that the Chargers, Eagles and Patriots, who are 36-11 in December and January since ’99, are so efficient down the stretch because they have been offense-minded teams for quite a while. Yes, all three have representative defenses, but they’ve managed to pile up points in the cold.
“You kind of just deal with it when it happens,” Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb says of the wind and snow and chill that Philadelphia, Washington and New York regularly provide this time of year in the NFC East. “There is no trick or anything to it. It’s something that you have to battle through when you are involved in it.”
There even are some players in bad weather locales who flourish in December. Bills wide receiver Lee Evans has 88 catches for 1,436 yards and 17 touchdowns in 23 games in December since breaking into the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2004.
Overall for his career, Evans has 5,218 yards receiving and 37 TDs.
Not that he’s helped the Bills prosper as the calendar closes in on the new year: the Bills are 10-13 in December with Evans on the roster.
Among the more baffling marks for the month is Dallas going 17-30 for December and the rare January regular-season game. The Cowboys traditionally have been contenders under Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips, yet they tend to fold under late-season pressure.
And they try to ignore it.
“The first 11 games make a difference, too, to where you are,” says Phillips, whose quarterback, Tony Romo, is 5-9 in December games, 0-2 in January (both playoff contests). “Those games are important, it’s not just one month.
“People can come up with all kinds of stats. I think the Cardinals lost three out of four last year and went to the Super Bowl and almost won the Super Bowl. So you can come up with all kinds of stats, but it is how you finish your record that season, not only in December, only in November or only on Thursday nights. We can come up with all kind of baseball stats if we want to.”
Perhaps. But the standings don’t lie. As Parcells often reminds people, you are what your record says you are. And the Cowboys’ numbers approaching the end of the year are ugly.
But not as ugly as what Denver and Tampa Bay posted in 2008. The Broncos dropped their final three games – with a three-game lead in the division, no less – and fell out of the playoffs. That helped Mike Shanahan lose his coaching job after 14 seasons.
Worse was what happened to the Bucs. Their biggest spiral since the expansion days began with four consecutive defeats last December, dropping them from 9-3 and thinking about a playoff bye to out of contention.
They cleaned house, sending coach Jon Gruden to the TV booth and promoting Raheem Morris. Tampa Bay is 1-11 this year and, no, the win did not come last weekend.
The Bucs are 3-12 in December since going 3-1 in December and 1-0 in January to finish the 2005 season. So the history of bad Decembers has Morris trying to sell his team on the value of finishing strong to learn how to play at the most meaningful time.
“You have to find a way to play great football in December, not only this year but for the future,” Morris says. “You have to put your stamp on what you are going to be going into the playoffs, making that run and doing what you have to do. No time better to start than now to work on December football when you are in December, with a team that pretty much doesn’t have a shot at the playoffs. You better establish your identity right now of what you are going to be in December.”
Unfortunately, some teams have established an identity they don’t want to be identified with.
AP Sports Writers Jaime Aron in Dallas, John Wawrow in Buffalo, Bernie Wilson in San Diego, Fred Goodall in Tampa and Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this story.