With just eight minutes and 28 seconds standing between the Patriots offense and another AFC East division total, it was the combination of running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen that were called upon to seal the deal and extend their team's seven-point lead over the Miami Dolphins.
Sixteen plays and over seven minutes later, including 12 runs from Ridley, Vereen and quarterback Tom Brady, kicker Stephen Gostkowski was set up for a chip-shot field goal that would effectively seal the division.
In fact, it was the defense and the running game that picked up the Patriots on a day that the passing attack and Brady were not at their best.
"Yeah that was important," Brady said on his weekly appearance on the "Dennis & Callahan" show on WEEI sports radio in Boston (click HERE to listen). "I don't think it was our best day of production on offense, and I thought Miami's defense played really well. But our defense got us the ball on some short fields, played great in really some tough situations for them where coming off a turnover, we got backed up on our own goal line [and] had to punt it out, didn't give up much. Our defense really saved the day, and obviously what our backs have been able to do, not only yesterday but all season has been a huge reason why we've been on a six-game winning streak."
That final drive left opposing quarterback Ryan Tannehill with no options other than watching from the sidelines. Brady was asked if that was a helpless feeling.
"Yeah, but that's what we needed to do," he said of executing the final drive. "That's part of complimentary football, and that's part of what we're trying to accomplish every week. I think there's definitely times where there's situational football, and that particular situation, it was important to eat up the clock and then ultimately to get down there and kick the field goal, which pretty much sealed the day. That was a great way to end the game."
The effectiveness of the ground attack on the final drive stood in contrast to much of the first 52 minutes of the game, as the Patriots racked up 53 of their 108 total rushing yards on that drive after being stalled on the ground for most of the afternoon.
Asked what accounted for the change, Brady was unsure, but he'll take it nonetheless.
"That's a good question. I don't know," he replied. "I haven't watched the film yet. It usually comes down to execution, just executing a little bit better, but I think the good part was to do that down in Miami in the warm weather, when we really haven't played in the warm weather in a long time. I thought that was really a good effort by our guys in a situation where you've already played [52 minutes] and you're able to play your best football when you need it the most, and when you're the most tired. That's what it's got to be, when you're playing for division titles, they're not going to be easy, and you've got to go out and earn them. And I thought we did a good job of that yesterday."
Other soundbites from the interview on WEEI:
On why the Patriots have been so successful in the second half of regular seasons dating back to 2010 (20-0).
"I'm sure it's a bunch of factors, but I think it's the same thing: there's a lot of depth on our team. A lot of guys fill-in when guys get injured. It's not like we're the healthiest team in the league right now. There's a lot of teams dealing with injuries, but your depth is really tested, your mental toughness is really tested. I think we have the best coaches in the league, they get us prepared better than any other team in the league. All those little things become big things at the end of the day."
On playing on Monday Night Football (the Patriots host the Texans next Monday).
"I look forward to it. I think it's great. It's a big part of the reason why the NFL has been successful in that primetime spot. There's one game on, and we're going to be the team that's on against Houston and it should be a great game. Houston's got a great team, they've been playing well over the course of 12 games with one loss. It should be a fun night."
On how he is feeling after a hard sack from Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake.
"I actually feel pretty good today. I think over the course of a season your body gets callused a little bit from those plays and those sacks, but I feel pretty good today. He got a good hit, there's no question, but I'm glad I came out of it ok."
On getting wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (one catch on one target Sunday) more involved in the offense.
"That's what I've got to do a better job of. You can't come out of the game targeting him one time, and that's on myself. I've got to do a better job distributing the ball to him. It's not that he's not open, because he is open. Every time I watch the film I go 'God, I should've thrown to Brandon on that play.' He's a very integral part of what we do, and he's worked really hard over the course of this season, and I've got to do a better job getting him the ball. I don't think there's any question about that."
On the depth of his team, especially in relation to the offensive line.
"I think that's part of why we practice and why guys rotate in there. I think that's part of football. You have have injuries and Logan [Mankins] has had a few this year where we've been tested with Donald [Thomas] in there, and Donald's really stepped up to the challenge and had a great season. And then Dan [Connolly] wasn't able to go the whole day yesterday and Nick McDonald stepped in there. Nick's done a great job for us this year. That's part of the football season, that's part of what this is all about. There's 53 guys on the roster and you don't have back-ups for every position, but when guys are forced to play, then you go in there and play the best you can, and you prepare for that over the course of the week. And the better players you have on your roster from top to bottom, the better team you're going to have, especially at this time of year. There's some teams where you lose one or two players and you can pretty much say bye to your season, but I don't think that's the case with us. The guys we have, they work hard, they're prepared, and they're anxious to go out there and perform when they get their chance."
Sharing some thoughts on the tragic events in Kansas City in which linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then took his own life.
"That was I'm sure shocking for everybody. It was shocking to our own locker room. We're very to close to that organization with a lot of our friends there. It's just very tragic, and was pretty remarkable for them to come out and win yesterday. It says a lot about the character of that team."
"I had no idea no idea what the hell was going on. I started running and Nate was right there, and Nate told me, hey, on that play, that was the hardest hit he took all day. ... I'm a fish out of water when we get in those situations."
Click HERE to listen to the full interview