Last week's game was supposed to be the New England Patriots' first real test in nearly a month after they faced two winless teams and had their bye.
As predicted by many, they passed with flying colors, winning a hard-fought showdown at home against the AFC East rival Miami Dolphins.
Now comes an even bigger test: an equally important clash with the undefeated Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night.
Consider last week a pop quiz in comparison to this weekend's exam. The Colts have surprised many of the pundits by rattling off eight consecutive wins to start the season despite a new head coach and many new accessories on both sides of the ball.
The one constant, however, is all-world quarterback Peyton Manning, who is off to another great start and has the Colts in position to all but wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a victory over New England.
This current Colts "dynasty" -- if it's appropriate to use that term -- resembles the championship Patriots in many ways. For one, they've won 17 consecutive regular-season games dating back to last season. Those who remember the Patriots' Super Bowl runs of the early 2000s may recall their 21-game win streak from 2006-08.
Indianapolis might not reach that total, but another win over New England would put them that much closer to history and at the same time widen the gap among the haves and the have-nots in the AFC.
"Watching the Colts, as usual, they look pretty good," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "They've won games in different ways -- scoring points, playing defense, turning the ball over, making big plays at the end -- like they usually do, or they're getting out in front and coasting along.
"Offensively, they look as potent as ever, even though there are some new faces in there in the receiving group. Defensively, with some new faces in the secondary, along with (Robert) Mathis, (Dwight) Freeney, (Raheem) Brock, they're still very tough up front. Their linebackers run well and they turn the ball over, they rush the passer well. (They are a) real good football team, well-coached, execute extremely well, and they create a lot of problems and a lot of tough matchups."
Naysayers keep trying to devalue what the Patriots have done in 2009. They're 6-2, but just 1-2 on the road and that one "road" win came in London against the winless Buccaneers in front of an obvious pro-New England crowd. Matched up against the Jets and Broncos on the road, they looked far less efficient.
Likewise, their schedule hasn't been overly difficult, but the bottom line is they've beaten the teams they should beat. Last year's team did that as well, but failed to steal a game or two against comparable competition. As a result, they missed the playoffs in 2008 when it came down to tie-breakers. To avoid a similar fate in what has already become a log-jammed AFC race, the Patriots need a signature victory.
Knocking off the unbeaten Colts on the road would be a momentous way to kick off the unofficial start of the second half and, at least temporarily, quiet the skeptics who think this team is somewhat soft beyond its exterior.
The schedule doesn't get any easier after this -- the Patriots host the Jets next week, followed by a showdown at New Orleans against the undefeated Saints -- but they don't have time to look too far in advance. The Colts are more than enough to handle in the present.
"We know we've got our work cut out for us on this one Sunday night, but at the same time we're looking forward to getting going," Belichick said. "It seems like we play these guys every year. It's always an important kind of game and this one's no exception."
Get Patriots Insider updates on Twitter Follow @PatriotsInsider
Want to find out what other Patriots fans think? Join them on the Message Boards
Hot Topic: Official Game 9 Thread: Colts vs Patriots