If the New England Patriots were trying to send a message to the rest of the NFL, they made their point.
Make that, points.
Scoring touchdowns on their first seven possessions in a 56-10 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night, New England has officially discounted anyone and everyone who implied that "Spygate," the incident which occurred against the New York Jets in the opening week of the season, diminished any of their previous accomplishments.
Nine games and 373 points later, and the Patriots' message has been signed, sealed and delivered.
So much so that New England (10-0) was initially favored by 23 1/2 points over the visiting Philadelphia Eagles (5-5) for Sunday's game, the highest point spread ever involving a non-expansion team. And the Patriots will probably cover by 50, no less.
I wouldn't put it past them.
And neither would analysts and commentators who are going hoarse debating nonstop whether or not the Patriots are bad for the NFL.
Some say New England should punt, or even kick a field goal, when facing a fourth down with a 32-point cushion in the fourth quarter, as they were against the Bills. The Patriots, however, did neither, scoring their final offensive touchdown of the game before adding a defensive score just for good measure.
Others, meanwhile, insist it's the defense's job to stop the opposing offense, one hypothesis coach Bill Belichick obviously subscribes to.
"Coach says he puts you out there to score when you touch it," said quarterback Tom Brady, set to make his 105th straight start. "He doesn't put you out there to punt."
Now, there's something they haven't done much of at all.
The Patriots have punted only 22 times all season, by far the fewest in the league, nine fewer than the next closest team in Indianapolis.
But then again, why should they?
Featuring perhaps the greatest offense in the history of the league, averaging an NFL-best 41.1 points and 436.8 yards a game, New England may as well sign the winner of the annual Punt, Pass and Kick Competition to handle the punting duties.
At least then the organization could preserve some major salary cap space.
"I'm just in a good situation," said receiver Randy Moss, who, as we all remember, was snagged by the Patriots for a measly fourth-round draft pick. "I'm in a dream. It's too good to be true. I'm with the Patriots."
It's been a nonstop dream for New Englanders, too, who haven't seen a football team of this caliber, well, ever.
Just six victories shy of a perfect season, the first since the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team to accomplish the tougher-than-ever feat, the Patriots appear primed to go 19-0.
But it's the manner in which they're doing it that is turning heads across the country.
Brady, with his third five-TD performance of the season against Buffalo, is just 11 touchdowns shy of Peyton Manning's single-season record of 49 set in 2004. Moss, having been on the receiving end of four of Brady's schoolyard-esque scores last week, needs just seven to surpass Jerry Rice's mark of 22, a record that's stood for 20 years.
If all goes according to plan, the pair of future Hall of Famers should connect for the record-breaking score at about 12:15 p.m. Alaska Standard Time, on Sunday, Dec. 9. It should come about four or five minutes into the opening quarter of their Week 14 tilt against Pittsburgh.
But don't count on a celebration, even if it is in Foxborough.
They haven't done so all season.
Brady and his Receiver of the Day, traditionally Moss, connect for a touchdown, congratulate each other and jog to the sideline, already preparing the blueprint for their ensuing drive.
They're like doctors, in a way. They read the chart, diagnose the ailment and move on to the next patient.
What's not to like about that?
Belichick, who preaches his one-game-at-a-time mantra more than Bob Barker would say, "Have your pets spayed or neutered," wouldn't have it any other way.
He even has seldom-used tight ends buying into it.
"It's kind of like the Iditarod, those sled dogs," said second-stringer Kyle Brady. "Every single day you have to pull that sled and at night you eat your food and think about pulling that sled the next day."
All the Patriots are thinking about now is the Eagles, injured quarterback Donovan McNabb, or who may or may not play Sunday, and at what point backup quarterback Matt Cassel should enter the game.
Conversely, Philadelphia is probably still lamenting their 24-21 loss to New England in Super Bowl XXXIX, a setback that came under scrutiny during the Patriots' public trial following their now-infamous videotaping scandal.
"I think they should forfeit, man," Eagles' punt returner Reno Mahe said earlier this season. "We won the Super Bowl. I think we should get it. I'm going to go trade my NFC championship ring for a Super Bowl ring."
New England won't need to trade anything for its rings.
In fact, they're probably already in the mail.
Green Bay (minus 3 1/2) at Detroit
Lions lead this holiday series, 11-5-1. Brett Favre is 11-2 in last 13 versus Detroit. PACKERS, 38-27.
New York Jets (plus 14) at Dallas
Cowboys are 24-14-1 on Thanksgiving. Enough said. COWBOYS, 30-21.
Indianapolis (minus 11 1/2) at Atlanta
Clearly the NFL Network was banking on a showdown between Peyton Manning and Michael Vick. Too bad Vick's only showdown will be for the top bunk. COLTS, 31-10.
Buffalo (plus 8) at Jacksonville
Maurice Jones-Drew's ferocious block on Chargers' linebacker Shawne Merriman should deter pass rushers from coming his way. Then again, does Buffalo even have any? JAGUARS, 24-21.
Oakland (plus 5 1/2) at Kansas City
Priest Holmes retired on Wednesday. Third-string running back Kolby Smith will still run wild on Oakland's second-worst rushing defense. CHIEFS, 26-10.
Minnesota (plus 7 1/2) at New York Giants
Chester Taylor did his best Adrian Peterson impersonation last week with a 164-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Raiders. New York's defense is better. Much better. GIANTS, 28-24.
New Orleans (minus 3) at Carolina
The Saints have lost two in a row. Carolina has dropped four straight. SAINTS, 33-29.
Seattle (minus 3) at St. Louis
Seahawks are playing the best they have all season. Unfortunately for them, so are the finally healthy Rams. RAMS, 41-38.
Tennessee (minus 1 1/2) at Cincinnati
The Bengals are due for a win. Aren't they? BENGALS, 20-17.
Washington (plus 3) at Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay's defense should smother Washington's inconsistent offense. BUCCANEERS, 24-14.
San Francisco (plus 10 1/2) at Arizona
Kurt Warner is 7-0 as a starter versus the 49ers. CARDINALS, 28-9.
Denver (plus 1 1/2) at Chicago
Broncos have the 30th-ranked run defense.
That shouldn't matter, though, with Cedric Benson running for the Bears. BRONCOS, 20-17.
Houston (plus 3 1/2) at Cleveland
Phil Dawson's game-winning, pinball-like field goal in overtime to beat Baltimore last week jump-starts Cleveland's march to the postseason. BROWNS, 42-28.
Baltimore (plus 9 1/2) at San Diego
Ravens play on "tilt" after improbable loss to Cleveland. CHARGERS, 38-21.
Miami (plus 16) at Pittsburgh
The Dolphins will win one by the end of the season. Just not this week. STEELERS, 34-20.
LAST WEEK: 6-9-1 (spread); 10-6 (straight up)
SEASON: 86-62-11 (spread); 100-60 (straight up)
Comments and criticisms can be sent to Clarion sports reporter Matthew Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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