FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots left little doubt. They are the class of the AFC East.
By Sunday night, Tom Brady's team knows it may be tied again with the New York Jets, the big-talking rivals they embarrassed with a 45-3 beating on Monday night.
"It was a big win," Brady said, "but it was one win. There are obviously many more big games for us here down the stretch, none bigger than Chicago this week. So, I think we've got to move on pretty quick."
The Patriots take their 10-2 record, tied with Atlanta for the NFL's best, on the road to face the NFC North-leading Bears (9-3) on Sunday. The Jets (9-3) have a much easier opponent, the Miami Dolphins (6-6), and will be at home.
"I'm sure," coach Bill Belichick said, "we haven't heard the last from them."
The Patriots heard plenty of cheers from their fans as New York's offense, defense and special teams struggled throughout the 42-point blowout, tied for the fifth biggest margin of victory in Patriots history. But focusing too much on the most recent game may be misguided.
Earlier this season, the Patriots won their fifth straight, 28-18 over the Minnesota Vikings. A week later, they were upset by the Cleveland Browns, who were 2-5 at the time, 34-14.
Fans wondered: What was wrong with their team? How did Brady have his worst completion percentage of the season against a mediocre defense? Why couldn't the Patriots stop Peyton Hillis, who rushed for a career-high 184 yards?
But the next game was a different story. The Patriots turned it around, beating the tough Pittsburgh Steelers 39-26 to start their current four-game win streak.
New England and New York play three of the same teams in the remaining four weeks. The Patriots follow the trip to Chicago by facing Green Bay at home, Buffalo on the road and Miami at home. The Jets follow the game with the Dolphins by playing at Pittsburgh and Chicago then at home against Buffalo.
"It's like 16 one-game seasons. So week to week, we look at the opponent," Patriots offensive play-caller and quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien said Tuesday. "As far as how efficient we've been and all those things, that's good, but ... we've got to put together a plan that's going to be good for Chicago, and let's see how efficient we are against them."
It would be tough to match their efficiency against the Jets.
Brady led the Patriots on scoring drives in their first four possessions for a 24-3 halftime lead. In the second half, he directed drives of 93 and 94 yards that ended with touchdown passes. He threw no interceptions for the seventh straight game and the Patriots didn't commit a turnover for the fourth consecutive game.
On defense, they intercepted three passes and held the Jets to 25-percent third-down efficiency. And they committed only one penalty for the second time in three games.
But typically, Belichick found some problems.
"We can all see from the film that there are still a lot of things that we can work on and do better," he said. "Some things turned out well that maybe weren't as great as they looked."
But as the lead grew, he said, he never thought about taking out all his starters.
"I think about trying to win the game," Belichick said. "I think about a team like the Jets that's come back several times this year when it looks like they were out of the game and came back to tie it or win it or win it in overtime. I don't think that any game is really won until you're absolutely certain that the number of possessions the team has is fewer than the amount of scores that they need."
Brady started and finished the game at quarterback.
"I would never, never feel sorry for the Jets. There's no chance," he said with a laugh during his weekly appearance on WEEI radio. "There's no love lost between the current Patriots and the current Jets, or the former Patriots and the former Jets. It's such a great rivalry, and I think we bring out the best out of each other."
Their first meeting this season was in Week 2 when the Jets came back for a 28-14 win after trailing 14-7 in the final minute of the second quarter. In the second half, Brady threw two of the four interceptions he's thrown all season.
So even with a huge lead in the fourth quarter Monday night, he said he was concerned.
"I'm still going, 'God, is there a way for them to come back?'" he said.
Not very likely with Brady in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. He's thrown 228 consecutive passes without an interception, short of Bernie Kosar's NFL record of 308 with Cleveland in 1990-91. He has 17 touchdown passes since his last interception, including four in each of the last two games.
The stretch has talk show hosts discussing Brady's chances of winning his second NFL MVP award.
"I just think he's a very consistent performer who's playing well right now," O'Brien said. "I think that there are a lot of guys that are playing well for us right now. And we just have to keep it going."