Tom Brady and company let the dwindling group of doubters know that they can dominate even their best opponents and are still improving as they head toward the playoffs.
''It needs to come together now,'' Brady said after throwing four touchdown passes in New England's 42-14 win over Houston on Monday night. ''This is the perfect time for it. We can't wait any longer.''
There was plenty of pregame focus on the Texans' big playmakers – J.J. Watt with an AFC-high 16½ sacks, Arian Foster with an NFL-leading 15 touchdowns, Andre Johnson with 74 receptions.
And Houston was the only NFL team with a perfect road record at 6-0.
The Patriots (10-3) took command quickly, scoring on passes in their first three possessions. Whether or not they wanted to deliver a message that the hype about Houston (11-2) was overblown, it couldn't be missed.
''Any competitive person is going to use whatever motivation best motivates himself,'' defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday. ''In the end, our motivation is going to be to go out there to try to play the best we can, get better and do our job to the best of our ability.''
But ''statement'' game?
''Not at all,'' defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. ''I'm not big on that.''
That's the real message coach Bill Belichick tries to deliver – treat every game as a difficult challenge, no matter how well or poorly the opponent has been playing. That emphasis has helped them win their past seven games.
''We don't really worry too much about records around here,'' he said.
Just as he professes not to think much about making a statement with a lopsided victory over an opponent that had won six consecutive games.
''I don't think we put a whole lot of relevance or spend any time talking about that type of thing,'' Belichick said. ''We talk more about what we need to do to win each week.''
Still, the Patriots often contribute to the hype. They make each opponent sound like a huge obstacle, no matter how poorly it's been playing.
The New York Jets had lost five of seven games, but Brady still called them ''a very good team'' before a Thanksgiving night matchup. Then the Patriots went out and rolled to a 35-0 lead in the second quarter and a 49-19 victory.
But when the lavish praise of an opponent comes from the media and other outsiders, the Patriots say they try not to listen. Sometimes, though, all the chatter comes through. And that gives some players extra incentive – like when plenty of pre-game talk centered around Watt and the Texans defense.
''Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders, everyone talking about the Houston Texans,'' Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. ''We always talk about ignoring the noise, but you hear it. You hear it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor, for me at least. I'm sure the rest of the guys felt the same way.''
Early in the season, the defense was giving up big plays.
Now, it's making them.
Devin McCourty intercepted Matt Schaub's pass into the end zone on the Texans' second series. The Patriots sacked him on the third. They forced a three-and-out on the fourth. And they made fourth-down stops on the Texans' fifth and sixth possessions.
New England's defense was outstanding. Houston's was overwhelmed.
''What everyone says (is) what everyone's got to say,'' McCourty said. ''We know we're a good defense here. We know we've played really well the last couple of weeks and the biggest focus for us is just trying to build on that.''
The Patriots have clinched the AFC East and, with three games left, have a chance for home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. They still must overtake Houston and finish with at least the same record as the Denver Broncos (10-3).
But all that can wait.
Now the Patriots are concentrating on their second straight highly touted opponent, the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) on Sunday night.
Only this time, most of the attention could focus on how dominant the Patriots are, especially after the way they handled the Texans.
Might the 49ers use that as motivation as they head into a stadium where the Patriots have won their last 20 games in December?
''We're just getting ready to play them,'' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. ''Extra this or that, I'm not sure that anybody needs it this time of the year. We're all fighting to win each and every game that we can.''
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