That Patriots' bandwagon, which emptied out pretty quickly at about 4 p.m. last Sunday in Miami, is suddenly filling up again.
And why not, after what happened Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium?
A 41-7 victory over anybody is impressive enough. But the Patriots . . .
a) Beat the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, winners of four in a row and five of their last six, and who seemed to have already begun the same kind of late-season run that earned them a Lombardi Trophy last year.
b) Did it on the road, where there'd been a pedestrian 3-4 prior to Sunday (and where they hadn't beaten a team with a winning record all season).
c) Did it with defense, which has a been a Wilfork-less/Mayo-less/injury-riddled sore spot over the last two months.
"The defense just played great," said quarterback Tom Brady, who -- for once -- didn't have the fate of the game on his shoulders.
"I couldn't be prouder of the football team," said coach Bill Belichick. "Those guys, they earned it today. They really did. That's a good football team we played. But our guys earned it today."
After the Pats had jumped out to leads of 14-0 in the first quarter, 17-0 by halftime, and 20-0 in the third quarter, the defense never allowed the kind of opposition surges that cost them games in Miami, Carolina and New York. Not that the Ravens are an offensive juggernaut -- far from it -- but the Pats forced four turnovers (two of them interceptions by Logan Ryan); sacked Joe Flacco four times; stopped the Ravens twice on fourth-and-short; halted another drive deep in New England territory (and got a payoff when the Ravens missed a chip-shot field goal); forced a turnover on downs midway through the fourth quarter when Baltimore was desperately trying to get back into the game, and generally had things under control most of the way.
The Pats, now 11-4, had clinched their fifth consecutive AFC East championship before they took the field when Miami lost at Buffalo. But the victory enables them to hang into the No. 2 seed overall in the AFC -- they remain a game ahead of both the Bengals and Colts, each of whom are 10-5, and a game behind the 12-3 Broncos -- and they can guarantee themselves of no worse than the second seed, and a first-round bye, with a home victory next week over Buffalo.
"A great win," summed up Brady.
New England went up 7-0 on its second possession. A 34-yard pass interference penalty against Jimmy Smith put the ball at the Baltimore 1 before LeGarrette Blount bulled into the end zone for the first of his two touchdowns. Three plays later, Flacco threw into double coverage and was intercepted by Ryan at the New England 47. After completing a 34-yard pass to Danny Amendola, Brady connected with Shane Vereen for a four-yard score.
The Patriots quickly got the ball back, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 45-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to make it 17-0.
Shortly after halftime, the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-3 at the New England 39 and Flacco threw an incomplete pass. Baltimore's next possession ended with Ryan's second interception of the game and fifth of the season. Seven plays later, Gostkowski kicked a 42-yard field goal for a 20-0 lead.
Flacco tried to rally the Ravens, but after a 42-yard completion to Torrey Smith produced a first down at the New England 13, he couldn't get into the end zone. When Ray Rice was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-and-1 at the New England 4, that effectively ended any chance of a comeback.
The Ravens scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Flacco with 9:21 left, which enabled Baltimore to avoid its first shutout loss since 2002, against Tampa Bay. But New England responded with a seven-yard run by Blount with 2:05 to go, then added another touchdown when an errant snap eluded Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Chandler Jones recovered the ball in the end zone. Tavon Wilson capped the scoring with a 74-yard interception return with 40 seconds remaining.
The Ravens had won their last two meetings against the Pats -- including a convincing 28-13 victory in last year's AFC Championship Game in Foxboro -- but New England answered Sunday by handing Baltimore its most lopsided loss since a 37-0 defeat at Pittsburgh in 1997. The loss also eliminated the Ravens (now 8-7) from contention in the AFC North and dropped them into a tie with Miami and San Diego for the final AFC wild-card slot. Baltimore closes the regular season at Cincinnati, which displaced the Ravens as division champs.
No wonder, then, that Brady called the afternoon "pretty sweet."
And a lot of those on-again bandwagon passengers would certainly agree.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.