With all the injuries, the New England Patriots looked as if they were composed of scraps when compared to their nearly flawless teams of recent memory.
Frayed and tattered, New England has been written off by some who insist this is the year of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Or maybe it's Cincinnati, Denver or another chic pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Anyone but the defending Super Bowl champions.
Still, New England (8-5) sits comfortably atop the watered-down AFC East and is closing in on its third consecutive division title and fourth in five seasons. The Patriots flicked away the Buffalo Bills, 35-7, Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium and have won four of their last five games with contests against Tampa Bay, the New York Jets and Miami remaining.
"We've still got a long way to go to be dominant," said defensive end Richard Seymour, who had three tackles and a sack. "Not taking anything away from the Jets or Buffalo, but we just understand we have to continue to put these type of efforts together against Indy, Cincinnati and the elite teams in the league. We don't want to get too high and express a false sense of confidence. We know where we're at as a football team."
They're in a position to run the table and finish the regular season at 11-5. If that happens, suddenly an Indy, Cincinnati or Denver promotion to the Super Bowl is not as trouble-free.
"I'm comfortable being an underdog," New England strong safety Michael Stone said. "The underdog is the one who isn't playing for as much. We're not used to being the underdog, but it's not a bad position to be in."
They're underdogs because they were 3-3 before a Week Seven bye and 6-4 following a 26-16 loss at Kansas City. The Patriots have enough injuries for an "ER" episode, and they listed 13 players on their injury report, including seven starters. All of the Patriots losses -- Carolina, San Diego, Denver, Indianapolis and Kansas City -- are to teams that have the potential to run deep in the playoffs.
"When we played teams earlier in the season like Denver and Indy, we didn't do as well as we would like," Seymour said. "We're starting to roll, but it's tough to compare which team is the better team."
On Sunday, it was clear New England was far superior to Buffalo (4-9).
The defense held the Bills to 14 yards rushing and 183 yards of total offense. Eight men camped out in the box all afternoon and Willis McGahee rushed just eight times for 3 yards. The Pats invited J.P. Losman to throw, and they intercepted him three times.
On offense, Tom Brady picked apart the Bills for 329 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Corey Dillon, who has missed six games with calf and ankle injuries, rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Backup Kevin Faulk tied for team-high honors in receptions with six for 71 yards. He returned to the lineup last week after missing eight games with a broken bone in his foot.
Come playoff time, New England figures to be tough.
"We're playing at a high level right now," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. "We just have to keep it going."