FOXBORO, Mass. — The Houston Texans may still own the AFC’s best record, but you can no longer call them the conference’s best team. That honor now belongs to the New England Patriots.
What was billed as the “game of the season,” heading into this week’s Monday Night Football showdown, turned out to be anything but. Tom Brady drove football after football down the throat of the NFL’s so-called “best defense.” And Vince Wilfork helped stifle one of the league’s most-balanced offenses with pressure on the line in what was arguably the secondary’s best performance of the year.
In the end, the utter domination put forth by the Patriots in “all three phases of the game” — a Bill Belichick favorite at the podium — saw an expected playoff preview take the shape of yet another Patriots pounding.
The fans were rabid with excitement about the win. But just because the Patriots held their usual humble tone after the game, don’t think they weren’t just as excited. Even Belichick hinted that the guys were a little livelier than normal.
“That’s a good locker room in there right now,” Belichick said of his players after the game. “Those guys feel good about the way they played and they should.”
By the time the locker room doors opened to the media, the players were subdued, at least far more subdued than Belichick made it seem. Guys were taking showers, getting dressed and unfazed by the added attention that was coming their way. They had just routed one of the league’s best teams on Monday Night Football. Yet, no one was beating their chests, there was no music blaring from the locker room speakers and no lofty declarations to be had. But those players were well aware of what they had just accomplished.
“That’s a good football team. I don’t want anyone to mistake that just because we put up the points that we did,” Wilfork said, making sure to give Houston their due. “At the end of the night, we played very well and everything fell in our favor.”
The win was good, but the way the Patriots were able to trounce a fellow Super Bowl contender was the most telling part of the night.
The final score read 42-14 on the scoreboards inside Gillette Stadium as the clock hit triple zeros, but the result was far greater than merely a 28-point rout. Whether they would admit it or not after the game — which they wouldn’t, in case you were wondering — the Patriots had immediately usurped the throne as the best team in the AFC, and maybe even the NFL.
At 10-3, the Patriots obviously don’t show up as the NFL’s best team on paper. In fact, they still trail the Texans and Falcons, who are both 11-2. But sometimes it’s not as much about the stat sheet as it about passing the eye test. And right now, there’s no team playing better football than the Patriots.
Monday marked the Patriots’ seventh consecutive win, a streak that many may compare to the team’s eight-game win streak to close out the 2011 season. But this stretch is far more impressive. Last season’s stretch run featured just one playoff team and not a single opponent that finished over .500. This current stretch has seen the Patriots win four division games and defeat two fellow playoff teams — the other being the Colts. There was a powder-puff win over the Rams in there, but a 45-7 blowout in that game was only further proof of their dominance.
This season, the Patriots are built for February football. They feature one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, a strong rushing attack and even a defense that has only continued to get better with each passing week. Their biggest weakness may be their strength and that they could be peaking too early.
The Patriots have quietly reasserted their place among football’s elite, and Monday only solidified that argument. Now, there should be no question which team is the best in football.
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