The New England Patriots can't earn a trip to the Super Bowl until January, but on a cold and windy night in November, they reminded the NFL that they are still one of, if not the, teams to beat in the AFC.
A 34-31 win over the Denver Broncos was enough to ensure that status.
Through all the storylines of wide receiver inconsistency, injuries, body language and more, the Patriots have been the Timex watch of sports teams: taken a licking and kept on winning. You could set your watch by the regularity of their wins.
They are now just two games away from their 11th straight season of 10 or more wins, but this wasn't just another win. The Patriots won in epic fashion, turning the ball over three times in the first half on their way to a 24-0 deficit.
Wait, so you mean to tell me three turnovers wasn't enough for Peyton Manning and the mighty Broncos to oust the Patriots?
Exactly. It all just served as a prelude to the biggest comeback in Patriots history.
Any visiting team hoping to enter Gillette Stadium in the playoffs and exit with a win can't feel great about their chances after watching what unfolded on Sunday night.
Great analysis by @TDESPN pointing how that Tom Brady higher accuracy and more yards into wind than Peyton Manning in entire game— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) November 25, 2013
The Patriots will just not go away.
They wouldn't go away down four points to the New Orleans Saints in the waning minutes of New England's thrilling Week 6 victory. They wouldn't go away despite trailing the Carolina Panthers on Monday night, just six days prior to refusing to go away when presented multiple opportunities to do so against the Broncos.
"We've had to come back and drive the ball in crucial situations a few times this year," said Julian Edelman, "and we've executed it pretty well. Even in the loss against the Panthers, you could take away from that that we had a minute and we went down the field and we were able to still have a chance to win the game. That's what you want to do: have a chance to win the game. We did that and we were able to execute it out this time."
The Patriots have been inconsistent this season, but one thing they've done consistently is just that: give themselves a chance to win.
Much of the criticism around the Patriots has been that they don't look like the "Patriots of old" who could hang 30-plus points on just about any team they faced, without so much as batting an eye.
No, this team is much more resilient than those groups.
This team doesn't have slot receiver Wes Welker, the guy they needed to turn to for six to 10 receptions a game. In fact, this team has had a different leading receiver in five games this season.
Make no mistake, Sunday night was a total team win. It couldn't happen any other way with a 24-point deficit.
Three recovered fumbles, an interception and the muffed punt heard 'round the world all aided in the comeback effort. After the Panthers snapped the Patriots' 36-game streak with at least one defensive turnover, the Patriots got four of them—three in the second half and overtime—to help get the win.
The Patriots secondary was contesting every pass Manning threw, on their way to holding the Broncos to just seven points in the final three quarters (including overtime).
All of it adds up to a Patriots team that, as usual, is hitting its stride in November and December. A win inches the Patriots closer to a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs—lo and behold, right back where they were last year.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.