The monkey is off their back and the Patriots are now heading toward the final two weeks with an eye on closing out the season better than the team has closed out games this year.
While New England let things get a bit hairy on the road yet again in Sunday's 17-10 win over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the bottom line is the victory was the first for the Patriots in an opponents' building this season and they'll take it. But not without another late scare.
Buffalo scored a late touchdown and looked to recover the ensuing onside kick for a chance at pulling off the comeback, but an offside penalty on the kick on rookie Aaron Maybin ruined the rally.
It was a squeaker for the Patriots, but the first road win pushed the team to 9-5 on the season and a two-game lead over both the Jets and Dolphins in the AFC East. It all but clinched New England's playoff spot heading toward Sunday's game against Jacksonville at Gillette Stadium.
The victory came in large part thanks to a New England pass rush that sacked Bills quarterbacks six times. It's a pass rush that's been lackluster at best all season, nearly as disappointing as the team's efforts on the road have been. But it used a sub package made up solely of linebackers and defensive backs to burst past a Buffalo line that's been as depleted as any in the league this fall.
"Now that's big," defensive end/outside linebacker Derrick Burgess said of the win before acknowledging the criticisms the pass rush group has heard all season.
"That's way bigger than criticism. I don't give a dam about criticism. But we won, on the road. That's big. We needed that."
Wes Welker, who was held to just four catches for 40 yards in the winning effort, agreed, wishing only that the first road victory had come a bit earlier in the journey.
"It's December. It's sad to say that, but better late than never," Welker said.
Beyond simply getting the road monkey off its back, New England's first road win also created a little breathing room in the division. Now two games up with two to play, the Patriots are a virtual certainty to win the AFC East and thus take one of the top four seeds in the conference playoff picture.
Of course New England's efforts in the coming weeks against the Jaguars and then in a season-finale trip to Houston to take on the Texans, will decide exactly how the AFC postseason picture plays out.
--DT Vince Wilfork missed his first game of a season with a foot injury suffered a week earlier against the Panthers.
--DE Ty Warren missed his second game of the season with an ankle injury suffered against Carolina.
--T Nick Kaczur missed the meeting with the Bills due to a shoulder injury suffered against the Panthers.
--RB Fred Taylor (ankle) missed his 10th straight game, despite practicing for the last two weeks. Bill Belichick has said that Taylor "has been getting closer" to a return every day.
--DT Myron Pryor (chest), G Stephen Neal (ankle) and CB Terrence Wheatley rounded out New England's inactives against the Bills.
--DT Ron Brace made his first NFL start at nose tackle in place of the injured Vince Wilfork in the win over the Bills.
Hot Topic: Patriots Bills Game Thread