Bill Belichick has coined this “the season of truth.” Well then, Saturday’s thrashing of Tampa Bay was “the game of truth.”

Patriot Nation was abuzz leading up to the game, as most followers felt that it would be a good measuring stick of just how far this team has come back from the moribund. But who would have thought we would get an early Christmas present in the form of a dominant performance against a team that was allowing an average of 16 points per game?

Almost without warning, a January showdown with the Colts is a real possibility. Heading into the playoffs, the Patriots will likely be the most dangerous fourth-seed in the history of the modern playoff format. With a de facto two week bye heading into the wild card round, the Patriots are suddenly the proverbial “team no one wants to play.”

Let’s face it. After the whooping the Colts put on the Patriots on November 7, only the most delusional or optimistic Patriots fan would have predicted such a remarkable turnaround. But I will guarantee that there will be one guy around the water cooler espousing such baloney at work this week. This is the same guy who knew the Sox were going to come back against the Yanks after going down 3-0.

The beauty of this 28-0 win over the Bucs was that it was done the old fashioned way: taking advantage of opportunities and stellar defense.

The Patriots set the tone early by scoring on the opening drive against a team that had only allowed two field goals on first possessions all season. They also did it by taking away the one thing the Bucs’ offense wanted to do – namely, run the ball – and put the game on the shoulders of Chris Simms.

This allowed the Pats’ defensive front seven to tee off on Simms and rattle the young signal caller. The result was a staggeringly low 138 yards of total offense from Tampa Bay. Mix in a fumble by Simms and a roughing-the-kicker call in the second quarter and the Patriots had all of the opportunities they would need.

The fun is back, gang.

The trouble with watching Tom Brady every week is that you can’t see the forest for the trees. Step back, watch a non-Patriots game and try to picture yourself having your fate tied to a J.P. Losman, Joey Harrington or Aaron Brooks. It’s not every day that a player could already be considered among the best of all-time when he’s not even 30 years old.

And as predicted in this space, the Gillette Stadium crowd showed up for this one. They caused Tampa Bay to burn timeouts and have difficulty while calling plays. Reports of the Foxboro crowd going soft were exaggerated and they will indeed be a factor on the weekend of January 7-8.

Again, only the most optimistic Patriots fan would now be calling up their cousin who lives in Dearborn, Mich., and checking on the availability of the living room couch for early February. But do I think that it’s destiny that the Colts and Patriots will be squaring off a month from now. After Saturday’s whipping, it sure feels like its heading that way, doesn’t it?

If you’re truthful with the way you felt after that early November Monday night, you have to believe that this turn of events could be one of the best Christmas presents you could ever ask for.

Much like the Red Sox did earlier this year, the Patriots this season will indeed acquit themselves as world champions.

The rest is gravy.

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