FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There’s been a lot of talk on television and radio this season that the New England Patriots aren’t a great team.

Try telling that to the Baltimore Ravens. The Pittsburgh Steelers. And, now, the Indianapolis Colts.

Those teams have been mentioned among the NFL’s elite clubs this year. The Patriots have beaten them all.

Sunday’s 31-28 decision over the Colts at Gillette Stadium might just put those “not-really-that-good” comments to rest. It should.

The Patriots may not have the best statistics in the NFL, and they might make the games closer than they should be, but they are tied for the best record in the NFL at 8-2.

Not that good, you say? Fakers? Lucky? Well, you’d better reconsider your definition of elite, especially after the last two weeks, when they mauled the Steelers in Pittsburgh and beat the Colts at home.

Not that they care what anyone outside of the locker room thinks.

“To us, it’s never been about what everyone else thinks, about how good we are or how terrible we are,” said fullback Sammy Morris, who only carried the ball twice Sunday for five yards, but each run gave the Patriots a first down. “We know what we have in here, we’re confident in everyone and we just have to make plays.”

That’s what the NFL comes down to, making plays.

Bill Belichick, the head coach of the Patriots, has always said that most statistics are meaningless. The only ones that really matter are points for and points against. And wins and losses, of course.

The Patriots may give up a lot of points. Coming into the game, they were ranked 25th in the 32-team NFL, allowing 23.8 points a game. But they score a lot, too. They’re averaging 28.9 points a game, tops in the NFL.

Their defense knows they have to make stops. That’s what they did against Pittsburgh, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times. They did it against Peyton Manning, intercepting him three times.

The biggest, of course, was the last, by safety James Sanders at the Patriots 6-yard line with 31 seconds to play. Manning had led the Colts from 31-14 down to within three points by knifing through the Patriots for two stunningly quick touchdowns in the fourth quarter, turning what appeared to be a Patriots’ rout into, well, another Patriots-Colts classic. And he had the Colts moving again in the final seconds.

But on first-and-10 from the Patriots 10, Sanders read Manning’s eyes, dropped off his double-team of tight end Jacob Tamme and leapt high to pick off Manning’s pass for Pierre Garcon.

“Tremendous interception,” said Belichick.

“For a minute, I was thinking deja vu,” said Sanders, referring to last year’s last-second loss to the Colts when the Patriots dropped a late 13-point lead. “As a defense, we knew that if we didn’t make a play, we were going to lose a game.

“Peyton wasn’t just going to give it to us, so we had to go out there and take the win.”

Unnoticed by many was the rush put on by rookie defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, who got outside pressure on Manning and brushed him with his right hand. That may have forced the ball to fall short of its intended receiver.

“As usual,” said Belichick, “games like that come down to a couple of plays. Today we were fortunate enough to make them.”

Look at Danny Woodhead’s 36-yard touchdown run. He stumbles, puts his right hand down to keep his balance, and then receives crucial down-field blocks from wide receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker.

“It was good team football,” said Belichick.

Patriots fans have seen this before. In 2001, the Patriots were by no means a great team. At one point, they were 5-5. But they won the Super Bowl that year, beating Kurt Warner and the heavily favored Rams because they made plays. Big ones. Small ones. Memorable ones.

There’s a long way to go yet, but the Patriots are doing all the right things right now.

Most of all, said veteran tight end Alge Crumpler, they’re learning how to win.

“Everybody on our team understands the importance of each and every game,” he said. “What (the team’s success) shows is that if we listen to our coaches, and go out and play a hard-nosed style of football, we can win these close games.

“It teaches us a good lesson, that really, it is more than a cliche. Sixty-minute football is more than a cliche. You really got to line up and play every single play and take advantage of every single opportunity.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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