After weeks of grind-it-out wins and disappointing losses, the Patriots clinched the AFC East title on Sunday with a balanced, dominant, 35-7 win over the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
The victory, over a Jacksonville team that was still fighting for its own postseason life, was New England's most complete win in nearly two months. Tom Brady was rolling through the air, completing all but three of his passes while throwing four touchdowns. Sammy Morris (12 carries for 95 yards) and Co. got things going on the ground, putting up 197 yards as a team. And New England's defense made life uncomfortable for David Garrard and the Jags offense.
Beyond locking New England into a home playoff game to open the postseason as either the No. 3 or 4 seed in the AFC, maybe more importantly the win got the Patriots feeling like they might actually be playing some of their best football heading into the most important time of the year.
"When we were out there we were talking as a defense, we were just saying if we can play like this we can stop anyone," safety James Sanders said. "When we play like that it's tough to beat us."
"It was a good day," Brady said. "So, it's the time of year when we really need to start playing good football and I think (Sunday) was really probably the best 60 minutes we've played all year."
Now the question moving forward is how much effort New England will put into winning its season finale in Houston. Brady (rib, shoulder, finger) has been badly banged up for weeks while Moss (back) and Welker (knee, ribs) have dealt with various injuries over the course of the season.
With so much of the playoff picture up in the air, even in the final week, it would be hard for Bill Belichick to control his own future, whether he decided to play or rest his key starters.
In the wake of his team's decisive victory to close out the season a perfect 8-0 at home, Belichick wasn't ready to tip his hand as to how he'd handle the playing time in the final weekend.
"It's a good win for us, a real good win," Belichick said. "Right now we'll just enjoy it here for a little while and then kind of figure out what's next. It's good to walk off that field as AFC East champions this year. I'm really proud of the way the players stepped up and played."
LINEUP WATCH: Sebastian Vollmer has started at right tackle in each of the last two weeks, the second-round pick having now started a total of seven games, including five at left tackle. While injuries have sidelined LT Matt Light and RT Nick Kaczur at various times, Vollmer has made a strong bid to remain in the starting lineup even with the line is at full health.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The Patriots have won nine or more games for the ninth straight season, the only team in the NFL to claim such a streak.
Hot Topic: Patriots Jaguars Game Thread