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Make Your Reservations Now... For The Patriots, It's Super Bowl Or Bust

Peter May: A rocky start has given way to smooth sailing for the Pats. Pictured: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady jumps on the back of tight end Rob Gronkowski after Gronkowski scored a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014. (AJ Mast/AP)
Peter May: A rocky start has given way to smooth sailing for the Pats. Pictured: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady jumps on the back of tight end Rob Gronkowski after Gronkowski scored a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014. (AJ Mast/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

We’re on to Glendale.

You’ll see a unicorn prancing through your backyard before you hear New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick use that phrase anytime soon. But after Sunday night’s dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts, the sixth straight win for the Pats, clearly it’s Super Bowl XLIX or Bust for Belichick and the boys.

Everything is going according to Hoyle for the AFC-leading Patriots after a rocky start in which they looked like they might have trouble beating Columbia. Shortly after a blowout loss to Kansas City on Monday Night Football, which dropped the Patriots to 2-2, Belichick then stymied reporters wanting to know what was wrong with the now-legendary line, “we’re on to Cincinnati.” That was their next game.

Since then, the Patriots have been on a Sherman-esque march through the NFL. They’ve averaged more than 40 points a game while beating the good (Denver), the supposedly good (Indianapolis, Cincinnati), the bad (Chicago, Buffalo) and the ugly (New York Jets.)

The only close game in the last six was the still unfathomable 27-25 victory over the Jets. Otherwise, it’s been Blowout City...

Meanwhile, the Wily Coyotes in the AFC East have predictably run off a cliff tying to catch the Roadrunner Pats; New England has a two-game lead in the division and two of their remaining three division games are at home. The Patriots are 30-3 in games in the second-half of the NFL season since 2010. So if you’re Miami or Buffalo, save the travel expenses and take the forfeit.

At 8-2, the Patriots are headed toward what is almost an annual rite of passage: the championship of the AFC East, a first-round playoff bye, a second-round home playoff game against a hopelessly overmatched and starry-eyed opponent and the AFC title game in Foxboro, where they have won 14 straight overall and 34 straight regular-season games against AFC opponents.

We’re on to Glendale.

You can be sure Belichick and Co., are not harboring any such grandiose visions, at least not publicly. It’s all about the next game for the Pats, which means they are — for public consumption, anyway — on to Detroit.

But barring a rash of devastating injuries — always a possibility in this, um, “contact sport,” — there is not a team in the AFC that poses a threat to the Patriots getting back to Glendale. (The first visit there was the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII to spoil the unbeaten 2007 season, so there’s that as an added incentive.)

Week after week, we’re hearing the same things from the opposing locker rooms as coaches and players try to come to terms with the Category 5 thrashing they’ve just absorbed.

“Very disappointed. Not acceptable by any means,’’ was the reaction of Colts coach Chuck Pagano after he saw his team get smoked at home. The Colts rushed for 19 yards in 17 carries; you don’t have to be Pythagoras to know that is not acceptable. The Patriots converted 75 percent of their third-down chances against a team that had allowed an 18 percent conversion rate at home. Not acceptable by any means.

Two weeks earlier, after getting bludgeoned 43-21, a dazed and confused Denver Broncos center named Manny Ramirez was asked for his thoughts on the beatdown. He said, simply, “I have no explanation.” That was more than just Manny being Manny. That was Manny being Every Patriots Opponent Since Week 4.

The only close game in the last six was the still unfathomable 27-25 victory over the Jets. Otherwise, it’s been Blowout City: 43-17 against the Bengals, 37-22 against the Bills, 51-23 against the Bears, 43-21 against the Broncos and 42-20 Sunday night against Indianapolis. That’s an average victory margin of 22.6 points in those five routs. Add the Jets game and it’s a victory margin of 19.2 points over the course of the winning streak.

In other words, save for the Jets’ game, which is looking more and more like an outlier, the Patriots have not been pushed or threatened in any of them. Tom Brady can be otherworldly or underwhelming. It doesn’t matter.

It’s getting to the point of being unfair. The Patriots unleashed a seldom-used, virtually unknown running back against the Colts named Jonas Gray. He had nearly been cut in training camp and then was called to duty when leading rusher Stevan Ridley went down. All Gray did was rush for 199 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts on Sunday.

Belichick might as well put a ‘What, Me Worry?’ button on for the rest of the season.

It’s also getting to the point of being ridiculous. The last time a rookie with no career touchdowns rushed for four touchdowns in a game was on Nov. 27, 1921, when Herb Henderson of the Evansville Crimson Giants did it against the Cincinnati Celts. That nugget comes courtesy of the good folks at Elias.

The defense has finally clicked, as most figured it eventually would with the off-season acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, two in-your-face cornerbacks. Browner, in fact, does not know what it’s like to lose as a Patriot. He missed the first four games due to a substance abuse suspension (even the vaunted Patriot Way has its occasional detours and back alleys) and made his 2014 debut against the Bears.

Sure, there are Lions and Packers and Jets to come. The Patriots might even be challenged or — gasp — lose a game along the way. But Belichick might as well put a ‘What, Me Worry?’ button on for the rest of the season. Brady is playing like an MVP candidate. Rob Gronkowski is healthy and destructive again. Julian Edelman (a.k.a Minitron) is out-performing the departed Wes Welker. The defense is purring. The list — and the beat — goes on and on.

That slow start and that Monday night embarrassment in Kansas City are ancient history. Rearview mirror stuff. Yesterday’s news.

We’re on to Glendale.


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Peter May Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Peter May was a sports writer at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades. He now teaches journalism at Brandeis University and is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

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