With the 23-16 win, the Patriots clinched the AFC East title on Sunday, their fourth consecutive and ninth in the past 10 years. Another divisional crown may not seem like much to a team so accustomed to the title, but the honor also secures a playoff spot for the title-hungry Patriots.
While such a label might thrill some NFL teams, the championship isn’t nearly enough to suffice this group.
Less than a year removed from a crushing defeat in the Super Bowl, the Patriots aren’t entertained by another notch on the old division title belt. There’s much more at stake this season, and these players are keeping their view of success in perspective.
“We know we’ve accomplished something, but in the scheme of things, we have a lot of football to play,” Vince Wilfork said after the win.
The Patriots’ hierarchy of success begins with yet another division crown, but it always ends with Wilfork and his teammates hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans. That’s not an unreasonable goal, either.
The Patriots are now 9-3 on the season with four games left in the regular season, and a few tough tests ahead with visits from Houston and San Francisco on the horizon. There may only be four games remaining on the Patriots’ schedule, but they have more than what’s on the schedule in their future and, according to Bill Belichick at least, a lot of work left to do.
“We have a long way to go. We have a quarter of the season left,” Belichick said of his team’s outlook. “A lot of opportunities to improve.”
Sunday’s win wasn’t the prettiest football the Patriots have played this season. Tom Brady threw an interception, something he hadn’t done in his 202 passes prior, and was sacked four times, another harsh reality he hadn’t experienced in quite a while — 10 quarters, in fact.
But it’s not about the means in New England. Anyone even slightly familiar with Belichick’s style could tell you that in a heartbeat. And so, the stat sheet may not look too clean, but the only stat worth counting was filled in properly.
“It’s not about stats, it’s about wins,” Belichick said. “And that’s what we’re here for.”
In that mindset, the division title is definitely a point of note for the Patriots. But it’s by no means the crowning jewel.
Belichick and his team have much bigger fish to fry — as if the Dolphins weren’t enough. The hats and T-Shirts from Sunday’s win are nice souvenirs to tuck away in the attic, but the wardrobe-worthy attire won’t arrive until February. Now, it’s up to the Patriots whether they’ll be the ones donning it.