FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- His usual mutterings after his team's 43-21 victory over the Denver Broncos surfaced, grumblings about how it really didn't mean anything other than seven victories with so much ahead. This is what New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick always does -- build ‘em up, tear ‘em down, gas ‘em good and then choke any pretense of grandeur.
"We've got a long way to go," Belichick moaned.
Maybe not nearly as far as they have come.
Let's face it, the Patriots looked roasted on a Monday night back in late September, a 41-14 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs that looked so putrid, so listless and so overwhelming that few thought this team would every truly hum again. Yeah, it might croon some, but the killer thoughts were the Patriots' talent was weak on offense, that quarterback Tom Brady was surrounded by a bunch of bums and this team was so far from elite that, at best, it would win the "weak" (Buffalo and Miami say think twice) AFC East and be one-and-done playoff fodder.
But a Patriots undefeated October followed. A 4-0 month was capped by 51 points scored against the Chicago Bears.
And now this on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium -- Brady outplaying, out dueling Peyton Manning and, more importantly, his cast topping Manning's cast.
That's the guts of this game.
How receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola and running backs Shane Verren and James Develin soared above the Broncos' stud offensive weapons.
How tight end Rob Gronkowski did his usual thing but beyond that, how the bit players danced as a primetime troupe.
Sure, the Patriots defense denied Manning and the Broncos on three fourth-down attempts in the fourth quarter, limited them to seven first-half points and to 43 rushing yards total. Manning passed for the most silent, ineffective 438 passing yards possible, as too little of it turned into points and as too few of his weapons produced explosive plays. Manning was intercepted twice.
Brady was quicker and sharper, and he improved to an 11-5 career record vs. Manning.
It was a joyful game for him because in it his sidekicks became chiefs.
"We're just, I think, a bunch of grinders and we come in every day and put the work in and do what our coach asked us to do and hopefully it keeps paying off," Brady said. "There's no magic trick ..."
Actually, with that approach, magic can appear.
"That Kansas City game was ugly and it was an ugly time for all of us," LaFell said. "We got back here and came together. There was a lot of competition in practice. There was a lot of looking into the mirror. We decided we were not going to let the man next you expect more of you than you did yourself. Everyone had to ask himself, `Am I doing everything I can to help this team?'"
Gronkowski said: "That's how you come together as a team. Just like that."
Tight end Tim Wright saw something different in Brady after the collapse in Kansas City.
"The old heads in here, Vince Wilfork and others, they led the meetings in their particular position groups and Tom especially turned it up," Wright said. "When Tom turned it up like he did, it had a domino effect. It got serious. It wasn't just a game anymore. He set an example for everyone to follow suit. He got everyone on their 1's and 2's."
The same thing as their "P's" and "Q's," Wright said, translating the lingo he loves from his old Ft. Lauderdale neighborhood.
No Patriot responded more against Denver than Edelman.
When you are a quarterback in college, as Edelman was at Kent State, and you are converted to an NFL receiver, it often means you entered with earnest work ethic and with a lofty football IQ. Edelman did when he was drafted by the Patriots in the seventh round in 2009.
In the tradition of Antwaan Randle El, Matt Jones, Brad Smith and Brian Mitchell and other former NFL players who made the transition from college quarterback to offensive skill player, Edelman desired to be an impact player. To play this game he loves on a bigger level than his 5'11, 200-pound frame would indicate.
The Broncos got that message.
Especially after he returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter that pushed New England ahead 20-7. It earned him the Patriots franchise record for career punt return touchdowns (four). Edelman caught nine passes for 89 yards and one for a 5-yard touchdown. He seemingly was everywhere and meant everything.
Since shifty receiver Wes Welker bolted from the Patriots to the Broncos last year, New England has been looking for someone to fill Welker's role consistently.
In this matchup, Edelman out-Welkered Wes Welker.
"I don't know, I learned a lot from him and we still talk and text each other," Edelman said. "We've played against each other now three times with him in Denver, so it's not that new anymore. We just had a good week of practice and were able to take that mentally and physically to the game."
Edelman wore No. 1 in college. He wears No. 11 now.
Sort of like his own version of "1's" and "1's?"
"No," Edelman said. "That's just the number they gave me. I gladly took it."
He took a lot in this game, one that moved New England to a 7-2 record entering its bye. Denver is 6-2 with road games next at Oakland and St. Louis.
The Patriots have resurrected. Their offensive role players have become prime players. They are not the bums so many people thought.
"You just have to create your own story," Edelman said. "You have to do your job and ignore the noise."
Stay on your "1's" and "2's." Watch Tom Brady turn it up.
"Tom has a lot of heart," Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "He's probably our No. 1 leader on this team. He's been fearless out there. You want your big players to step up in big games."
Your "little" ones, too.