FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots were reeling from the second worst loss of the Belichick-Brady era when the disappointed but determined quarterback took a moment to look ahead.
“We need to make sure we never have this feeling again,” Tom Brady said after that 41-14 rout by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sure enough, they’ve made sure.
That blowout ended a mediocre month in which coach Bill Belichick’s team was 2-2 and armchair analysts were proclaiming its demise.
Since then, the Patriots are 5-0, piling up points and heading into their bye week with a 43-21 win over seemingly unstoppable Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Any doubters now?
“We never listened to it,” said Brandon LaFell, who has emerged as a dangerous wide receiver with 17 catches in the past two games. “We just kept doing what we do — make plays, continue to work our butt off and continue to believe in each other. And, eventually, it started to click.”
In every phase of the game.
In the first four games, the Patriots averaged 20 points and Brady threw for 197.8 yards per game with a total of four touchdown passes and two interceptions.
In the past five, they’ve doubled their output with 40.2 points per game while Brady has averaged 320.2 yards passing with 18 touchdown passes and just one interception.
The defense has stiffened on third downs and kept the Broncos from converting all four times when they went for it on fourth down.
Then there’s elusive dual-threat wide receiver Julian Edelman who scored on an 84-yard punt return and a 5-yard reception against the Broncos.
Massive tight end Rob Gronkowski is a force again after offseason knee surgery — making spectacular one-handed catches, overpowering would-be tacklers and spiking the ball with gusto after his touchdowns. He has eight so far, with four coming in the last two games.
And after scoring 94 points in their last two games — a 51-23 win over the Chicago Bears as a warmup to the big defeat of the Broncos — the Patriots (7-2) have the best record in the AFC.
“We’re not measuring ourselves where we are,” Gronkowski said. “We’re just measuring ourselves as a team.”
A team that insists it has plenty of room for improvement.
“Seven wins isn’t going to get anything in this league,” Belichick said. “We’re going to have to do a lot more than that.”
Now the Patriots have an extra week to rest and prepare for another AFC division leader, the Colts in Indianapolis.
“We could use a month if we had it,” Belichick said Monday. “There are so many things that we need to improve on fundamentally, scheme-wise, in our different units, three, four guys working together on different things. There are a lot of areas that we need to address and will address.”
The first half of the schedule was the easy part. Only one of those eight opponents is a division leader.
Starting with Denver, the Patriots have three straight first-place foes. After visiting Indianapolis, they’re home against Detroit then on the road against Green Bay and San Diego.
So the Patriots better enjoy themselves before Belichick starts driving them hard again.
“Bill is going to give us a little slack in practice this week,” LaFell said. “If we would’ve lost, it was going to be a real tough week for us.”
But Belichick can’t be distracted — not by the hype of the 16th Brady-Manning meeting (Brady is 11-5 in those), by consecutive romps or by sensational plays.
How much fun did he have watching Gronkowski’s one-handed grab for a 20-yard gain to the Denver 1?
“That was a great play,” Belichick said, “but I was trying to do my job.”
He and his players have done it so well that they have an inside track on gaining homefield advantage for the postseason.
There might even be a good chance that the Broncos will visit Foxborough again, but Belichick is focusing on only one opponent.
“Right now,” he said, “I think there’s a good chance we’re going to see Indianapolis.”