Even sporting an unblemished record, the Patriots entered last Sunday evening's meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers with a chip on their collective shoulders. Following a pair of come-from-behind, three-point victories New England's unbeatable reputation had come into question in recent weeks. Lesser teams like the Eagles and Ravens had taken the previously almighty Patriots down to the wire.
Talk of blueprints filled newspaper columns, web sites, talk radio and TV analysis everywhere. And with the Patriots facing their final tough test of the season in hosting the Steelers, the record books didn't seem such a foregone conclusion.
Then the Patriots came out against Pittsburgh and reminded everyone exactly why the team is churning up "best-ever" talk. New England, a team that Bill Belichick described as "tired" earlier in the week came out with a new-found fire in dismissing the Steelers 34-13 at Gillette Stadium. The team had impressive energy, hit on some big plays and got back some of the swagger that had been lost of late.
"It's been a while since we played the way we wanted to around here and I think that for one reason or another we just hadn't been able to get things going like we had in the past," Matt Light said. "We needed to come out here and play well. This was obviously a big test for us."
With Pittsburgh in the rearview mirror, New England not only cruises toward 16-0 but has beaten just about every other seemingly legitimate Super Bowl contender along the way. At various points this season the Patriots dismissed potential AFC playoff teams from Indy, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo. New England also knocked off NFC frontrunner Dallas.
The wins may not have been of the blowout variety of late (thus putting an end to the running-up-the-score moral debates across New England) but the Patriots are victoriously marching toward a fifth straight postseason and potential fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons. After the win over Pittsburgh, doubt is no longer seeping into the picture. Never a team to look for stats, beauty points or critical acclaim, Belichick's boys are doing what they always do this time of year: winning and waiting for another shot at postseason glory.
Tom Brady bounced back from a game in Baltimore in which he completed less than 50 percent of his passes to get back on the record-setting train of his own right with four touchdowns in the midst of a 32-of-46 performance for 399 yards as the Patriots became just the 12th team in league history to go over 500 points in a season.
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