A week in December in San Diego sounds like an ideal getaway from the cold weather for the New England Patriots.
For coach Bill Belichick, it sure beats bundling up in a hoodie with a cap pulled over his ears in chilly Foxborough. For his Patriots, there’s more time to rest before a game with significant playoff implications.
So the itinerary was set for the business trip: After flying to Green Bay last Sunday, board an airplane after the game and keep heading west to practice for Sunday night’s game with the Chargers.
“We were able to get in here Sunday night and really have kind of a pretty normal day (Monday) and a normal Tuesday,” Belichick said in a conference call.
The plan allows them to get used to the 3-hour time difference and the 20-degree change in temperature, which is expected to peak in the high 60s this week in San Diego.
“It’s important for us to not be distracted by nice weather and things that are going on out here and realize that we have a job to do this week,” left guard Dan Connolly said. “We have to treat it as much like a regular week as we can.”
In 2008, the Patriots took two extended road trips. On the first, they beat the San Francisco 49ers 30-21 then lost to San Diego 30-10 the following week. They did it again for the first two games in December and won both, 24-21 over the Seattle Seahawks and 49-26 over the Oakland Raiders.
The Patriots missed the playoffs that season, although Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. Now he’s healthy and the Patriots (9-3) currently are seeded first in the AFC despite losing to the Packers 26-21.
The trip is a time-saver and a chance for players and coaches to bond with other team members at meals and free-time activities. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and running backs Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray were among those who attended the Los Angeles Clippers 127-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
“It’s an opportunity for us to clear our minds, spend a lot of time together and refocus on the task at hand of playing the Chargers,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “It is kind of a team-building experience so, hopefully, we can make the most of it.”
At least they won’t be worn out from a coast-to-coast airplane flight two days before the game.
“You get an opportunity to save yourself a little rest,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “You’re in a hotel so during the course of the day you’re working and then, as a coach, you just go up when your day is done and go to sleep instead of driving home and driving back.”
The Patriots also had computer and video equipment set up in San Diego “so it feels kind of like you’re at home anyway,” he said. That would be a great feeling for them to have, especially during the game.
The Patriots are 6-0 at home this season. But they’re pretty tough on the road in December, 24-6 since Belichick became coach in 2000.
San Diego (8-4) is 5-1 at home but four of those wins came against teams with losing records — Jacksonville, the New York Jets, Oakland and St. Louis.
They extended their winning streak to three games with a 34-33 win last Sunday at Baltimore on Philip Rivers’ 1-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal with 38 seconds left.
The Chargers are just the latest challenge for the Patriots. Their last four games were against division leaders and the next one is against a team in the thick of the race for playoff position.
“The demands are high on our football team,” Slater said. “We have to be able to refocus ourselves week in and week out, especially when we’re dealing with the kind of opponents that we’ve been dealing with. I think so far we’ve had the right mindset and the right preparation, but it certainly hasn’t been an easy road.”
It would have been tougher, and colder, if they didn’t spend the week in San Diego.
“It’s just something that gives you an opportunity to clear some of the other distractions away,” McDaniels said, “and just put your focus solely on what you need to do this week to try to do your best on game day.”