That's indeed what happened three Sundays ago when the unbeaten Patriots edged past the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-28. That telecast on CBS, due to the Patriots record and the fact that it came down to the last drive, drew 41 percent more viewers than the usual Sunday night ratings' champ, "Desperate Housewives."
But that only reports a smidgen of the nation's obsession with the Patriots this season.
In fact, if you want to get technical, it really started in January for the AFC Championship with the Indianapolis Colts. That broadcast was the highest-rated television program over the course of the 2006 regular season and 2007 playoffs. Only the Super Bowl was bigger.
The Patriots and their cavalcade of viewers have picked up steam every step of the way.
This is a far cry from the 2001 and later the 2003 and 2004 Patriots Super Bowl teams. Those teams were considered dull, uninspired and boring.
Not so in 2007.
These Patriots might as well be Muhammad Ali, the New York Yankees or Howard Cosell. They have become a polarizing force in sports television and the networks have been salivating all season about it.
Two Patriots games on CBS this season, Oct. 14 in Dallas and Nov. 4 in Indianapolis, were record-breakers. The game versus the Colts ranks as the most watched afternoon regular season ever, besting the Cowboys-49ers tilt in 1986, with over 33 million viewers. The Cowboys game is the second most-watched game on CBS this season.
ESPN has a similar Patriots' story. The Pats-Ravens game two Sundays ago was the most watched cable program ... ever. That's right, the 27-24 come-from-behind Patriots' win was a huge ratings success with an estimated 17.5 million watchers. To put that in perspective, the last episode of the Sopranos in 2007 was seen by 12 million viewers, nearly 50 percent less than the Patriots-Ravens barnburner.
Let's not leave out NBC and Sunday Night Football, which never had the same team play on consecutive weekends. That all changed when the Patriots were part of the first "flex" game, a rule that allowed NBC to change the previously scheduled game with a more attractive one.
Well, on opening day of the "flex rule" on Nov. 19, the Pats-Bills game was moved from 1 p.m. to the prime time Sunday slot at 8:30 p.m., dumping the Bears-Seahawks matchup. The next Sunday night, the Patriots hosted the Eagles at Gillette Stadium.
Other than a discussion segment relating to the Patriots nearly every day this season, the NFL Network has yet to reap the benefits of Patriots Fever. But that will change Dec. 29, the final weekend of the season, when the Patriots play their sixth (and maximum) and final night game in the Meadowlands.
The Patriots will probably be playing for the 16-0 record in the regular season, joining the 1972 Dolphins, who were 14-0, as the only teams to win every regular season game. Fans who don't have access to the NFL Network are already barking about it. But the NFL Network is sticking to it guns and will broadcast the game (per NFL rules, the New England and New York areas will see the game on regular TV).
Two weeks ago the Cowboys-Packers game drew 10 million viewers, breaking a record for the new network, which has averaged just under 5 million per telecast. If, as expected, the Patriots are 15-0 heading into their finale, they could get as many as 12 or 13 million viewers.
"Clearly the Patriots' quest (for an undefeated season) has become the biggest story in the NFL this season and the ratings validate that," said NBC spokesman Brian Walker.
All of the networks have made sure to carve out some time to talk about the "Patriots quest for perfection." If it's not Tom Brady, Bill Belichick or Randy Moss, it's the Patriots defense that dominates discussion on most weekly and especially pre-game shows.
It's a far cry from the 1993 season, when the Patriots were 1-11 at the time and literally begging 10,000 fans to come to the next game so it could be televised in the Greater Boston area.
"It was painful," recalled Patriots director of media relations, Stacey James. "I have to pinch myself sometimes. You have to remind yourself and soak this all in the best you can.
"I remember after winning the back-to-back Super Bowls, with 14-2 records, which included the 21-game winning streak," said James, "I didn't think it could get any better. It is."
A large portion of their viewership, though, while obviously interested in the history-making streak, is there for a distinct reason. They want the Patriots to lose.
"At this point, with the body of work they've put up, now people watch and say, 'I don't want to miss it when they lose," said Mike Tirico, the lead announcer for "Monday Night Football," during a recent conference call.
CBS's Jim Nantz recently had an interesting term for the infatuation with the Patriots in 2007. He called it "The Tiger Woods Factor."
It means the average sports fan on Main Street in every town in America, sometimes even the non-fan, wants to witness history whether it's the Patriots winning again or losing.
"People understand they may be watching something they'll never see again in their lifetimes," Nantz said during a conference call.
While the Kraft family is exceedingly happy with exposure, there has been a small cost.
The Patriots - the football team and coaching staff - are tired of literally burning the midnight oil.
Coach Bill Belichick admitted after the rugged win in Baltimore that the late night games have been exhausting, especially the ones on the road, which means the team plane doesn't touch down in Providence until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.
After arriving home from Baltimore, Belichick gave the team Tuesday and Wednesday off which, coming after a Monday night game, is almost unheard of, considering they had another "big" game on Sunday against the Steelers.
The Pats-Steelers game, by the way, was the third highest rated NFL game this season at an 18.4 share, behind the Pats-Colts (22.5) and Pats-Cowboys (18.5) games.
By the time the Patriots will have finished the regular season, they will have played a record-low five games at 1 p.m., including today's tilt. The six night games - 3 Sunday night, 2 Monday night and one Saturday night - also is a NFL regular season all-time high.
CBS has decided to make more history with the Patriots. For the first time - or as long as anyone can remember - the network will send out its No. 1 crew, Nantz and Phil Simms, to follow one team on three consecutive weekends in Foxboro, including last weekend, today and next Sunday against the Dolphins.
The NFL Network ran a piece last week saying that the Patriots have taken the term "America's team," on loan from the Cowboys, referring to their obscene ratings from the beginning of the season.
While their might be some doubt as to how many fans are rooting for or against the Patriots, there is no debate about this: Fans are watching the Patriots like no other team before.
You can e-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you know ...
That the 33.8 million viewers of the Patriots-Colts game on Nov. 4, 2007 was more than the average audience of the Red Sox-Rockies World Series (17.5 million), 2007 NBA Finals (9.3 million) and 2007 Stanley Cup Finals (2.4 million) combined.
The Patriots-Ravens game on ESPN on Dec. 3, 2007, was the highest rated cable TV program ever with 17.5 million viewers.
The top three rated NFL games this year