With Sunday's 34-3 victory in Buffalo, the Patriots won the AFC East for the second consecutive season and the eighth time in the last 10 years. And for the third time in franchise history, they also locked up the top seed in the AFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
It's a heck of a reward for a team that departed for Buffalo on Christmas and got stuck in upstate New York due to the blizzard that rocked the East Coast. The Patriots planned to stay in Rochester, N.Y., on Sunday night and fly back home Monday.
So, it will take them a little longer than expected to return to Foxboro, but with this week's regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots won't have to board another plane unless they earn a trip to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.
"It never gets old, I'll tell you that," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw three touchdown passes against the Bills. "We never get tired of winning. That’s what we've been preparing for all offseason and training camp, and to have a chance to do something pretty special [Sunday]. This is a tough division."
The Patriots, who were the first team in the NFL to clinch a playoff berth this season, could have wrapped up the division title last week, but the Jets hung on for a close win against the Steelers.
On Sunday, though, they had control of their own fate, and due to that, the message all week was much more real. They talked about accomplishing something special and reaching their initial goal, and with the way they played in Buffalo, it was evident that message was well-received.
The key thing now is to stay sharp. The Patriots have a meaningless game Sunday against the Dolphins, and then they've got a week off before hosting the lowest-remaining seed in the divisional round of the playoffs. Essentially, the Patriots have three weeks until their next game means anything, while their to-be-determined opponent for that game will likely be playing a string of important games before heading out to Gillette.
For now, the Pats can concentrate on the addition to their wardrobe — championship hats and shirts — as well as a way to get back to Foxboro, where they'll remain for a while.
"That’s our biggest present, being able to come into the locker room and see that hat and T-shirt," Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. "That’s just one of your goals. That’s something to be proud of, especially with our division, a real competitive division. For us to win it, I know a lot of people counted us out. All year, we knew what we had in this locker room. We knew how special this team can be."