Tom Brady was not wearing his AFC East Championship gear -- neither the hat nor the t-shirt -- when he took the podium Sunday night.
"It's in my bag," he grinned. "I'll be wearing it all week."
It was not your usual "hat-and-t-shirt" experience for the Patriots. And there is a usual, seeing as how this year's AFC East title marks New England's eleventh in 14 seasons. But this year's divisional title was not ground out on the gridiron so much as lost by Miami in a 1:00 p.m. shutout. The Patriots received the good news of a playoff berth before taking on Baltimore at 4:25.
Yet it didn't kill their hunger.
"Those games are important," Brady said. "We knew the Dolphins had lost before this game, but it wouldn't have been as good coming in here without winning and getting a hat and t-shirt. It was a great win against a very good team on the road. It's just what we needed."
It was a demolition.
New England played its most dominant football of the year, winning 41-7, on the road against the Ravens. It wasn't a perfect performance; Brady has done better this season than completing 14-of-26 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown. But the team took all the must-haves, like going 3-for-3 inside the 20 against the conference's best red zone defense.
And the defense was insatiable, sacking quarterback Joe Flacco four times, hitting him seven times, defending 10 passes and intercepting two. Baltimore's last two drives ended in touchdowns… for the Patriots.
It was a 60-minute complimentary effort.
"Those guys were playing with a lot of confidence tonight," Brady said of the 'D'. "One good play lead to another. They got a fourth-down stop, [Baltimore] missed a field goal, we took advantage of some opportunities and then made a bunch of plays at the end. It was pretty sweet."
Sweeter still that the Patriots are galloping into the postseason on three legs.
No Vince Wilfork, no Jerod Mayo, no Tommy Kelly on defense. No Sebastian Vollmer and no Rob Gronkowski on offense. But New England keeps winning. Even though the injuries keep coming -- starting safety Devin McCourty left Sunday's game with a head injury and never returned -- they just keep winning.
"This team has really fought hard all year. We've earned it," Brady said. "Eleven wins in the NFL is not easy. And to win a division title is not easy -- the competition is pretty stiff. We've faced adversity, other teams have faced adversity, it's just the way it is in the NFL. I think the mental toughness is what's most important.
"I think we've shown all year that even if we've been out of games and down, we fought back and made them close in the end. We haven't won them all, but we've won enough."
Enough to be 11-4 and the AFC's current No. 2 seed. New England can secure a first-round bye next weekend with a win over the Bills. The 6-9 Bills.
"It's the biggest game of our season," Brady said. "We've got one game to play, so that's all that matters is trying to find a way to beat Buffalo."
Sounds like someone is still hungry.