FOXBOROUGH, Mass. &
What's next for the Patriots now that the preliminaries, as perfect as they were, are over?
Four days off to savor their feats and soothe their aches. A New Year's Eve toast to a 2008 that's as good as 2007. Then back to reality &
the meeting rooms and practice field presided over by demanding Bill Belichick.
They may have been unbeaten in the regular season, but that's history.
In the playoffs, which New England starts Jan. 12 at 8 p.m., the Patriots are winless.
"The next time we step on the field we'll be zero and zero in the second season," Belichick said Sunday, "so we've got still a lot to look forward to."
The Patriots arrived back home at 3:30 a.m. with a 16-0 record and a break from practice until Thursday.
It would have been 15-1 if Tom Brady hadn't pulled off his fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season to beat the New York Giants 38-35 on Saturday night.
New England joined the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears as the only teams to finish a regular season undefeated. Only Miami, though, also made it through the playoffs without a loss.
So the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season could go 0-1 in the playoffs.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years and were labeled by many as a dynasty. But in the next season, 2005, they missed a berth in the AFC title game by losing at Denver. Then their 2006 season ended with a loss at Indianapolis in the conference championship game after they blew an 18-point lead.
"We've been there before," Belichick said in a conference call. "Lose and go home. Win and keep playing. It's all one-game seasons now."
Brady, who broke Peyton Manning's single-season record with his 49th and 50th scoring passes Saturday, may not throw another. Randy Moss, who caught both to break Jerry Rice's record with his 22nd and 23rd touchdown receptions, may draw triple coverage in the next game.
Stranger things have happened in the playoffs. The 1934 Bears led the NFL title game 10-3 at halftime on a slippery field but lost 30-13 after the Giants switched to sneakers at intermission.
"It's a relief that we played the regular season and it's finished," Brady said. "Now we get ready for what we've been preparing for all season. The week off is extremely important for us to rest and a little bit of pressure is relieved for this week. Coach will turn up the pressure Thursday when we go back."
That will intensify after next weekend's wild-card round when the Patriots find out who they'll play after their bye week. They have home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
"Every team that has made the playoffs has a legitimate chance to be a world champion," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "So we have to forget about this and move on to who is next."
That opponent may be very familiar. The Patriots already have beaten the other three AFC division winners.
They pounded San Diego 38-14 in their second game, edged Indianapolis 24-20 in their ninth game and beat Pittsburgh 34-13 in their 13th game.
The Chargers, 1-3 through four games, got much better after that. The Colts were 6-1 in their seven games after the loss.
"We played San Diego a long time ago," Belichick said. "The Colt game, that was in the middle of the season as well. So we know those two teams, and Pittsburgh, which was the most recent of our games.
"We'll wait and see how things shake out today and what the seedings are and then take a look at what potentially could be our next game."
There are plenty of mistakes to fix from Saturday's far-from-perfect performance. But before making corrections, there was time for celebrations &
even for a team going through what many see as a joyless season in which only another Super Bowl title matters.
"Any time we win we're excited," Belichick said. "With the success we've had this season, yesterday's game puts a certain little bit more of a degree of satisfaction in that game because of the culmination of the regular season.
"But, at the same time, we've got plenty of things that we need to work on."
And he still doesn't utter the words "unbeaten" or "undefeated."
Maybe he will if the Patriots win the Super Bowl, where they could face another familiar team. They won at Dallas, the NFC's top-seeded team, 48-27 in the sixth game.
It would be tough for them to get there if they play like they did Saturday &
a season-worst 35 points allowed, the first kickoff return for a touchdown by an opponent and the first game in which they gave up four touchdown passes.
No, that probably wouldn't add up to 19-0.
"When you give up 35 points on defense and special teams, that's not where you want to be," Belichick said. "That's not going to win every game for you in this league, that's for sure."
Perfect Patriots rest, then move on after 16-0 run
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. &