FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots insist that their rout of the Texans was not a "statement" game to show they could excel against the team with the NFL's best record.
They made one — loud and clear — nevertheless.
Tom Brady and company let the dwindling group of doubters know that they can dominate even their best opponents and are still improving as they head toward the playoffs.
"It needs to come together now," Brady said after throwing four touchdown passes in New England's 42-14 win over Houston on Monday night. "This is the perfect time for it. We can't wait any longer."
There was plenty of pregame focus on the Texans' big playmakers — J.J. Watt with an AFC-high 16½ sacks, Arian Foster with an NFL-leading 15 touchdowns, Andre Johnson with 74 receptions. And Houston was the only NFL team with a perfect road record at 6-0.
The Patriots (10-3) took command quickly, scoring on passes in their first three possessions. Whether or not they wanted to deliver a message that the hype about Houston (11-2) was overblown, it couldn't be missed.
"Any competitive person is going to use whatever motivation best motivates himself," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday. "In the end, our motivation is going to be to go out there to try to play the best we can, get better and do our job to the best of our ability."
But "statement" game?
"Not at all," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "I'm not big on that."
That's the real message coach Bill Belichick tries to deliver — treat every game as a difficult challenge, no matter how well or poorly the opponent has been playing. That emphasis has helped them win their past seven games.
"We don't really worry too much about records around here," he said.
Just as he professes not to think much about making a statement with a lopsided victory over an opponent that had won six consecutive games.
"I don't think we put a whole lot of relevance or spend any time talking about that type of thing," Belichick said. "We talk more about what we need to do to win each week."
Still, the Patriots often contribute to the hype. They make each opponent sound like a huge obstacle, no matter how poorly it's been playing.
The New York Jets had lost five of seven games, but Brady still called them "a very good team" before a Thanksgiving night matchup. Then the Patriots went out and rolled to a 35-0 lead in the second quarter and a 49-19 victory.