Even though it seemed like merely a formality after the big Monday Night Football win over the Jets, the New England Patriots still had to tie up a few loose ends before they could exhale.
Following Sunday's 34-3 win at Buffalo, they can officially call themselves the No. 1 team in the AFC. The Patriots are now 13-2 heading into Week 17. They've locked up the top seed in the conference and have earned themselves home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which means the road to the Super Bowl will have to travel through Foxborough.
What a strange road it's been. The Patriots entered this season with a ton of question marks, specifically on defense, and their performance early on did little to quell the fears of the naysayers who thought their youth and inexperience would be their downfall. Now, with one week left to play in the regular season, the Patriots have the look and feel of a champion.
The journey is far from complete. The Patriots took some time to celebrate Sunday since they couldn't fly home until the following afternoon, but from here on out their focus is on winning another Super Bowl.
"I don't reflect often. Maybe at the end of the season or in March," quarterback Tom Brady said. "It doesn't do any good at this point because our goals of the season are still ahead of us. The only thing you are focused on is what you have ahead of you. I learned that from coach (Bill) Belichick.
"That's where the satisfaction is. I feel we're not where we need to be. Though we are going in the right direction, our toughest games are ahead. We've got plenty of time to worry about the playoffs, but the playoffs don't start next week."
Until then, the biggest question is whether or not the starters will play in next week's finale against Miami since the game is essentially meaningless in terms of playoff seeding. Since the Patriots will have a first-round bye in the playoffs, some of the players may need the work to keep from getting rusty.
"I'll tell you this: It's not going to surprise me one bit for us to go out there and to do everything we can to win this game," Brady said. "I think that's just the way Bill has been approaching things all year. I would expect nothing different from that.
"(With the first-round bye), you really won't play a meaningful game for a couple of weeks (if you don't play Sunday). And, you know, someone has to play; there's only 45 guys active each week. It's not like college when you have a 95-man roster. We're all a part of this team, all want to go out and play this week, and we're all excited about the chance at a 14-2 record. That's a hell of a record. That's as good of a record we've had other than 2007. We have a chance to finish it off against a team that plays us tough."
--QB Tom Brady extended his interception-free streak to 319 consecutive pass attempts without an interception Sunday, setting an NFL record.
Brady eclipsed his old record of 183 consecutive pass attempts without an interception (set in 2009) on Thanksgiving at Detroit. Brady's 319 pass attempts without an interception stretch from the overtime period against Baltimore Oct. 17 through Sunday's win over Buffalo. Brady's last interception was on the last play of regulation against the Ravens.
Gronk Setting Records
--Rookie TE Rob Gronkowski caught his eighth touchdown reception of the season on an 8-yard pass from Brady in the second quarter and his ninth touchdown on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brady in the third, tying WR Jim Colclough and WR Randy Vataha for the Patriots' rookie receiving touchdown record.
--The Patriots forced seven Buffalo turnovers Sunday (three interceptions and four fumbles) and did not turn the ball over to raise their 2010 turnover differential to plus-27. The Patriots' team record for best turnover differential in a season is plus-17, a record which was set in 2003. The Patriots improved to 12-0 this season when recording a positive turnover differential.
--RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis registered his third career 100-yard rushing game and the second of the 2010 season when he gained 104 yards rushing against Buffalo.
--S Patrick Chung registered his career-high third interception of the season Sunday in the second quarter to help set up a touchdown for a 24-3 halftime lead.
--TE Alge Crumpler caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady at the end of the second quarter -- his first touchdown pass as a member of the Patriots.
--LB Dane Fletcher recorded his first career interception Sunday when he picked off a Buffalo pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
--WR Wes Welker extended his streak to 78 straight regular-season games with at least one reception Sunday. He has caught at least one pass in each of his 64 games with the Patriots, including three postseason games.