EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It's been a tough few weeks for the Big Two: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
Some called their recent issues "a slump." But many weren't so kind.
Two weeks ago, a New England-based national football writer wrote it's time to wonder if the game had passed Belichick by, on (coaching) and off the field (picking players).
Last week, another long-time local "knight of the keyboard" declared the Patriots Dynasty as we know it officially over.
And last but not least, a Sports Illustrated poll last week of 239 NFL players ranked Belichick as their third least favorite coach to play for and Tom Brady as one of the league's most overrated players.
Let's just say, Patriot bashing, particularly here in New England, was back to Pete Carroll era levels.
And many people figured last night was going to be the official transfer of power; a decade-long mastery of the AFC East was going to end in, of all places, ugly East Rutherford, N.J.
Or so they thought.
What was supposed to be the beginning of the end for Belichick and Brady turned into a night the duo, and several million of their adoring fans, will never forget.
Belichick and Brady broke the all-time record for regular season wins by a coach and player team, with 117. They passed another AFC East combo, Don Shula and Dan Marino, who by the way never won the Big One in their reign.
"It's been a tough 14 days ... with two losses in a row," said Brady after last night's convincing 37-16 over the New York Jets, elevating the Patriots to 6-3 and sole possession of first place in the division and one-half game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) for the best record in the conference.
But last night wasn't about records for the Patriots. It was about credibility. Amazingly.
"It's really crazy," said Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, whose 8-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter basically finished off the game at 30-16 with 8:09 remaining in the game.
"One week we are 5-1 and we're the best team in the league," said Branch. "Then we lose one game, and then another, and we're the worst team in the league. At least that's what I heard."
Branch heard more scary thoughts, particularly about his coach and quarterback.
"Who said the game had passed (Belichick)?" said Branch. "Are you kidding me? He's still the best in football."
Belichick has had some great performances, but last night has to rank up there, considering what was at stake.
For proof, all you need to do is read these names: Sterling Moore, Niko Koutouvades and Jeff Tarpinian. This collection of unknowns played key roles in beating the Jets, filling in for Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty and Gary Guyton.
"I saw some of those guys on our scout team defense (this past week)," said Brady. "And then I see them on the field."
Honestly, "doubting" the Patriots has been par for the course throughout Belichick's reign. Brady's recent struggles threw him into this mix.
But everything may have changed last night. For most of last night, the football looked very familiar. Very familiar.