FOXBORO If you think the Patriots were lucky to get a little help from the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, theres an old saying to remember. You make your own luck.
Everything broke right for the Patriots on the final Sunday of the 2012 regular season (with the exception of whatever broke or was injured in Rob Ninkovichs hip). But they were in position to benefit from whatever slip-up the staggering Texans executed by being the best team in the AFC in 2012.
The Patriots played four of the other five playoff entrants in 2012. They beat Denver and crushed Indy and Houston. They lost to the Ravens on the road in a game that was impacted by the nearly-forgotten blight on this year, the replacement officials.
For their troubles, the Patriots get a week of rest before they saddle up a week from Sunday for the final game of the Divisional Playoffs.
On the line then will be a trip to their seventh AFC Championship game since 2001. The likelihood is high that it will be another epic matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Its a damn long way from 3-3, which is what the Patriots were after they lost in the rain out in Seattle, 24-23.
Well, weve won 10 of 11, so its pretty good, noted Tom Brady. We were 2-3 at one point (Editor's note: Patriots have won 9 of 10, were 3-3 at one point - not 2-3), and we had some tough games early in the year. We won 10 of 11 and the only loss was a against a pretty good football team where we turned it over four times. So if we dont turn it over four times, I like our chances.
Their chances of getting where they want to be Louisiana in early February ballooned when Houston lost and the Dolphins took their tentative steps into the cold air of Foxboro and raised the white flag.
Then, the Patriots werent playing just for the intangible seed but a very tangible need. The need for rest.
Talking to Brady briefly at his locker after the game, he immediately ran through a litany of teammates who will benefit from the extra time off. He started with the secondary, mentioning Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib first. Brady knows that in the playoffs a steady defense will keep you in the game no matter how of a rock fight it becomes.
And the rock fights are coming.
Everything rises to a whole other level now, said Vince Wilfork. Every team you face is a good football team. You're not playing any teams that are below average; you're playing all top quality teams, so we have to be at our top. We have to be at our best every play, every situation for 60 minutes sometimes it might be more. Every time we take the field, we have to understand that we have to make a play. These guys have done a really good job all year. Theyve done a really good job all year and I'm expecting for them to do the same thing, but just raise our level of play just a little bit each week. More and more each week and hopefully it will get us where we need to be.
If the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak or wounded taking it up a level is a tall order. But with another week to heal, the best quarterback-coach combo of all-time and the knowledge in their pockets that they can beat any team in the AFC field, the odds-on favorite to be in Nawlins next month has now become the Patriots.