The Patriots went out and took care of business Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, and in doing so essentially put the wraps on the relevant portion of their season.
The 34-3 dismissal of the Bills, New England's 15th straight victory over the division doorstep, not only clinched the AFC East title but also the No. 1 seed throughout the postseason.
"That means a lot to us," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said of the AFC East Division Champion hats that were handed out to the New England players following the win at Ralph Wilson Stadium. "To be able to silence the critics. Some people doubted us. Some still do. All year we knew what we had in the locker room."
But with the key goals reached with a week remaining in the regular season, now the question remains as to how coach Bill Belichick will manage his team in the meaningless game. At times, he's seemingly managed his roster and the game to attempt to set up who his team would face in the postseason. Past finales against the 49ers and Dolphins turned into essentially JV contests.
Last season, though, Belichick played his top units through the bulk of an ugly, costly loss in Houston. Wide receiver Wes Welker went down in the first quarter with a non-contact, season-ending knee injury. A week later the Patriots were blown out of the postseason by the Ravens.
So how will Belichick handle Sunday's hosting of Miami at Gillette Stadium? Will recent injuries on both sides of the ball, as well as the flu making its way through the locker room, affect his plan of attack? Could backup quarterback Brian Hoyer lead the second-team troops?
Belichick rarely tips his hand, saying only that, "It's nice to be in the position we're in."
But quarterback Tom Brady made it clear that he'd like to be on the field.
"Yeah, I want to play," Brady said just minutes after notching his seventh straight game with at least two touchdowns and no interceptions. "Whatever he asks us to do we'll do."
New England players were wearing their new division title hats and celebrating Sunday night in Western New York, stranded in the area due to a blizzard in the northeast. But after the unique celebration, everyone was well aware that the main goal of the season remains to be accomplished.
"This is a huge accomplishment," linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. "This is something that you can't ask for a better end to the season because it puts you in good position to get to where you want to go. So we're definitely happy about this one, but we're going to stay hungry and stay humble."
LINEUP WATCH: Ryan Wendell earned his first career start as he stepped in for an injured Dan Connolly at right guard against the Bills. It marked the third starter at right guard this season and got down to New England's fifth guard on the depth chart with Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal having already landed on injured reserve.
BY THE NUMBERS: The Patriots can achieve 14 wins by beating the Dolphins on Sunday in the season finale in Foxborough. New England has reached 14 wins three times in Belichick's tenure (14-2 in 2003, 14-2 in 2004 and 16-0 in 2007), with the team landing in the Super Bowl each time.
--TE Aaron Hernandez did not make the trip to Buffalo to take on the Bills as he's dealing with a hip injury suffered a week earlier in beating the Packers.
--OG Dan Connolly, who earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors last week for his 71-yard kickoff return against the Packers, missed the Bills game with a concussion. Connolly got banged up as a goal-line fullback shortly after his NFL-record return late in the first half.
--OLB Jermaine Cunningham was also downgraded to out prior to the trip to Buffalo with a calf injury that crept up during the week of practice last week.
--DL Mike Wright (concussion), DL Brandon Deaderick (shoulder/flu) and Myron Pryor (back) filled out the rest of New England's list of injured inactives against Buffalo.
--WR Taylor Price and RB Thomas Clayton were the only healthy scratches among New England's eight inactives for the game in Buffalo.
--TE Rob Gronkowski, a native of Western New York, had a pair of touchdown receptions against his hometown team.