Pats chase bigger goals after clinching division
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The souvenirs from Darrelle Revis' first division title in his brilliant eight-year career were safely stowed in his bag.
For long-time New England players, the T-shirt with the message ''PATRIOTS RUN THE EAST'' and the championship hat are just the latest in a huge collection - six straight AFC East titles and 11 of the last 12.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman has won it in all six of his NFL seasons. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has won 10 in his 11 seasons.
''I'm blessed. I'm lucky. It's all of that,'' Wilfork said. ''What can you say?''
The enthusiasm after the Patriots clinched the division with a 41-13 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday was tempered by their pursuit of greater goals - home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, a berth in the Super Bowl and another NFL championship. They won three in four seasons but none in the next nine.
Revis did make it to the AFC title game twice, in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. His New York Jets were a wild-card team in 2010 then beat the Patriots in Foxborough 28-21 in a divisional game before losing to Pittsburgh 24-19 in the conference championship game.
Revis wanted to get back there so he chose New England over other options when he became a free agent after one injury-marred season with Tampa Bay.
''Just to win,'' he said of his motivation in signing with the Patriots.
And the division title?
''It's my first one, so I'm very excited,'' the five-time Pro Bowl cornerback said. ''It took a lot of hard work and I'm just excited. This is my first time so I'm happy to wear the hat and wear the T-shirt. It's pretty awesome.''
The Patriots can take another step toward their next goal, the top seed in the AFC, by beating Revis' former team. They visit the New York Jets (3-11) on Sunday before finishing the regular season at home against the Buffalo Bills (8-6), a team they beat 37-22 on the road on Oct. 12.
They were criticized prematurely by many when they split their first four games, including a 41-14 loss in Kansas City that left them at 2-2 and tied for the AFC East lead with Buffalo and Miami.
''We really didn't care how people felt about us,'' Wilfork said in the locker room after Sunday's win. ''The one thing we had was the people in here and our fans, our true fans. It always feels good to win the East, I'll tell you that.''
Even if the competition within the division has been mediocre throughout the Patriots domination of more than a decade.
In the 12 seasons starting in 2003, the Patriots are 57-13 against AFC East foes, a winning percentage of .814.
Against the rest of the league, they're 92-28 and .766.
They're 21-2 against Buffalo in that stretch with the next meeting on Dec. 28, although the Bills won Sunday against Green Bay, which had beaten New England.
Next Sunday's game at the Jets is another installment in a heated rivalry. New York coach Rex Ryan could have extra incentive to beat the Patriots before his widely expected departure after this season.
The Patriots should be heavily favored in both but always speak highly of their opponents and study and practice hard before each game.
''Every year we have a great opportunity to try to accomplish something,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ''It doesn't start this morning. It started back in March. It's a lot of hard work that goes into it. I don't think you ever take winning for granted.
''I certainly don't because I know how hard it is to win.''
No matter how many division championship T-shirts are hanging in your closet.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL