The AFC's coveted No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs are locked up, courtesy of Sunday's 20-10 win over the visiting Jets. But if you think for a second that 14-0 New England is ready to go into ease-up mode, you haven't been paying attention this season.
"Coach [Bill] Belichick is not letting up,'' said receiver Randy Moss, who though he might be a first-year Patriot, has been around long enough to figure that out. "If you all think there's any chance he is going to let up and give us a break, he's not. Coach Belichick would never let a team like this get ahead of itself.''
I found questions about Belichick resting players almost comical. What team have those media members been watching? Certainly not the go-for-the-throat Patriots. Here's how the exchanges with Belichick went on that topic:
Reporter: With the No. 1 seed wrapped up, does the context of the games change the way you'll utilize your personnel? (In other words, are you resting starters?)
Belichick: "We'll do what we always do.'' (In other words, tell you nothing of our plans, then play everyone almost the whole game.)
Reporter: When you say, 'Do what we always do,' does that mean ...
Belichick: "It means we'll prepare for the game. We'll break down the film, we'll prepare for the game. The players will come in, we'll give them the game plan, we'll get ready to go and we'll go play on Sunday. The same thing we always do.''
Reporter: How about as far as what players ...
Belichick: (Cutting off yet another question.) "That's what we always do. We'll play the same way. We'll do what we always do. That's what we do.''
Reporter (a bit later): With everything now wrapped up, why wouldn't there be an advantage to letting up and maybe resting guys?
Belichick: "I think I already answered that question. Anything else?''
I think that about covers it, don't you? The next instance in which the Patriots even remotely approach kick-back mode will be some time after the evening of Feb. 3. That's that, and it isn't changing, no matter what conventional wisdom says about top-seeded teams resting players for the playoffs.
Having just joined the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only two teams to ever start an NFL season 14-0, the Patriots aren't playing by the same "rules'' that have applied to other No. 1 seeds (not that those guidelines have had a great track record in recent years). These Patriots will play their last two regular-season games -- home next week against Miami, and then at the Giants -- to win. Because that's the best way, they believe, to prepare for the win-or-go-home intensity required in the playoffs.
Asked if he hoped to play much in the next two weeks, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn't hesitate. "I hope so,'' Brady said. "I hope I play every snap. That's the most exciting part of my job, playing.''
For all its ballyhooed pregame Spygate angles, Sunday's tough test against the pesky Jets served the Patriots' preparation for the playoffs well. The game, played in a steady freezing rain with wind gusts that whipped up to 27 mph, was an old-fashioned New England-type win at frosty Gillette Stadium. The kind we came to expect from the Pats before points started coming in droves.
"This was definitely Patriots weather today,'' New England receiver JabarGaffney said. "It was pretty rough out there. But with homefield advantage wrapped up, that's where we'll be [in January], right here. There's no telling what the weather will be around here. But faced with these elements again, now we've got a little experience playing with them.''
How the Patriots won this one could come bear fruit for them in the playoffs. To beat the Jets, they had to run the ball, play stout defense and make a big play on special teams. It wasn't going to be the Patriots' passing parade, and winning ugly was going to be plenty attractive this time.
So it was Laurence Maroney rushing for a season-high 104 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. It was 35 New England runs against just 27 passes. It was a Pats defense that sacked Chad Pennington five times and held New York to just three of 14 on third downs. And it was special teamer KelleyWashington breaking through to block a Ben Graham punt, setting up a two-play, three-yard New England touchdown drive in the second quarter.
"It's probably the way [the weather] is going to be next week, the week after, the week after -- so it's good to get out there and gain some confidence that we can win a game when the conditions aren't really [ideal],'' Brady said. "We'll probably have these conditions again. I hope we learned from them today.''
So from here on out, forget the point spreads, the NFL records that may be at stake and the silly subplots that have dominated New England's season through the first 14 games. Locked-up top seed in the AFC or not, the Patriots won't get ahead of themselves in these coming two weeks. It's just not their style.
"As long as that zero stays in that [loss] column, I'm cool with it,'' Moss said.
They all are. They want to win. Every week. Every game. No matter how they have to do it. There will be no resting. Haven't we all figured that out by now?