FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Through six weeks of the NFL season, the AFC East looked like a runaway, and not the way it had been for most of the past two decades.
That night, safety and longtime Patriot Devin McCourty couldn't hide his disappointment when he said: "Just got to keep fighting. There's nothing to say ... I think everybody needs to go get away. [It] hurts."
Six weeks later, it hurts so good.
The Patriots (7-4) haven't lost since, winners of five consecutive games. And after the Bills' surprising 41-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at home on Sunday -- dropping them to 6-4 -- it is New England shockingly back in first place in the division.
Add in the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans losing at home to the Houston Texans 22-13 on Sunday -- equally as shocking -- and it was a great day for the Patriots to kick back and enjoy their popcorn after Thursday’s 25-0 win against the Atlanta Falcons, as things broke nicely in their direction.
The Titans (8-3) visit the Patriots next Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) and then comes a Dec. 6 visit to Buffalo on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
The Patriots then have their bye before a road game against the Colts and a home date with the Bills. This stretch, arguably the toughest of their season, figures to go a long way in determining their playoff seeding.
Not that coaches and players are thinking that way.
"Just take it one day at a time here and try to keep making the most out of every day," coach Bill Belichick said late Thursday night.
Added McCourty: "As the season goes on, sometimes there's a moment of relaxing or 'we've got it.' We've found our blueprint -- it's hard work, putting in the time, putting [in] the hours, practicing hard. We can't let that slip up. We have to stick to that."
Doing so now has them atop the AFC East, which few saw coming just six weeks ago.