BALTIMORE -- Logan Mankins could only smile and laugh.
He was asked if he was insulted that some so-called experts figured the Patriots and their banged-up offensive line would get manhandled by a tough Ravens defense.
"Well, the experts, I know they always have all the answers," Mankins said while trying to hold back a chuckle. "They really had them when they picked the winner of this game. So, when they don't mention us as physical I always say, 'Just go ask the guy that lines up across from us if we're physical.' "
That guy that lined up across from Mankins on Sunday was none other than T-Sizzle, Terrell Suggs.
How much did the Patriots miss Nate Solder? Not much at all. Yes, Suggs had five total tackles and one sack of his old pal Tom Brady. He also had two quarterback hits.
But what did it matter? It didn't. The Patriots played smash-mouth with the world champion Ravens on their home turf and dominated every aspect in a 41-7 butt-whooping that serves notice that these Patriots are playoff ready. The Ravens have Terrell Suggs and the ghosts of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The Patriots don't need individuals doing dances in the end zone before a game. They counter with their own intimidating, relentless style, and it was on full display for 60 minutes Sunday.
Sunday showed again why you should never, ever question the Patriots' toughness.
All the experts Mankins spoke of wondered just how these banged-up Patriots and their depleted offensive line would cope. These Ravens were starting to peak at just the right time and had their AFC North fate in their own hands. There was no way the Patriots were winning this game.
The Patriots could have come out on the field turf of the "Purple Palace" here and played like the Ravens, with no passion or real sense of urgency after the Dolphins handed them their fifth straight AFC East title with a 19-0 stink bomb in Buffalo.
But that's certainly not the "Patriot Way," and certainly not the sign of a mentally tough team.
These Patriots wanted no part of being handed anything and from the moment Justin Tucker kicked the ball to Shane Vereen at the goal line Sunday, it was evident these Patriots were on a mission.
"You have to ignore things from the outside," Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "And knowing we have the personnel and talent to do that, we have to do it consistently and that's a big point of emphasis."
This Patriots defense had one of its finest performances Sunday, forcing Joe Flacco into two interceptions by Logan Ryan, a Chandler Jones fumble recovery for a touchdown and a Tavon Wilson pick of a Tyrod Taylor pass for a touchdown.
Next man up.
It's a cliche in the NFL, but no one does cliches better than the Patriots.
Shane Vereen goes down with a groin injury early in the first quarter, gone for the rest of the game. What do the Patriots do? They play smash-mouth with the Ravens, running the ball 34 times for 142 yards, ramming it right down the throats of the Ravens. Tom Brady threw just 26 passes, the second fewest he's thrown all season.
Dont'a Hightower and Steve Gregory go down.
Then, Devin McCourty suffers a nasty looking neck/head injury and wobbles as he gets to his feet. He had to come out of the game and did not return.
These Patriots may wobble, but they don't fall down. Duron Harmon stepped up and Gregory stepped back onto the field and the Patriots didn't miss a beat.
The chance was there for Flacco to go up top like the Ravens did when Aqib Talib went down last January's AFC championship at Gillette Stadium. But unlike that game, which ended up in a 28-13 Ravens win, the secondary made the adjustments and never allowed the big play.
"That's what it's all about," Talib said. "We felt like we had prepared good. We just tried to come out and play fast, make some plays, and that's what we did. That was our focus during the week. We had it hot in the beginning of the year, then it died down, and that was our focus, to get it back hot."
Want toughness on the offense side of the ball? Look no further than Julian Edelman, closing in on 100 receptions this season. He was again called on Sunday to make a couple of key catches on third down in the first half before the Patriots turned it over to their running game in the second half. When Vereen went down with a groin injury, there was no panic. Why? Because everyone in red, blue and silver has been through all this before.
"It's just guys doing their job, the coaches preparing us well, and the guys practicing hard," Edelman said. "If a guy is not getting in, it's about taking mental reps. That's how I learned. You learn for that one opportunity you get, and you try to take advantage of it. There have been some bumps in the road, but it was definitely a good day today.
"We executed the assignments. We played complementary football -- offense, defense and special teams. We were able to run the ball and convert on crucial situations. There are some things we have to fine-tune over the next few weeks, but we're going to enjoy this win."
All of the injuries, all of the weird games like Carolina and the Jets on the road, all of the talk about Peyton Manning. These Patriots don't care about all of the factors they can't control. That's why they're AFC East champs for a fifth straight year.
"It gets better every year because you know how hard it is, especially with the crazy year we've had," Edelman said. "Having some of our big dogs getting hurt, being able to do your job and execute in crucial situations, and win crucial games. It's been a great year thus far."
It should surprise no one that BIll Belichick flatlined his post-game press conference following the win. He knows there's much more ahead for this team and he wants the outside to know he knows that. But on the inside, as we all were escorted out of the media room adjacent to the press conference Sunday, the Patriots, led by their coach, celebrated inside their locker room. They yelled in Tedy Bruschi fashion "Ohhhhhh, yeah." They celebrated overcoming adversity, and then Belichick stepped to the podium, stone-faced, and gave credit to one of the toughest teams he's ever coached.
"We had a lot of energy on the field from all three units. It was a great feeling," Belichick said. "It was kind of nice to be in a game that didn't come down to the last seconds. We actually had a lead with a couple of minutes to go. But that brings out excitement. When you can win in this league on the road, beat a good football team, they deserve the excitement.
"That's what we work for all year. We started with the offseason programs, OTAs and training camp. We worked to put ourselves in position to have a chance to compete at the end of the year, and we did that. We got ourselves into position to qualify for the playoffs. That's good. We'll see what happens going forward. And that's what we play for, to be able to play in the postseason. Fortunately, we have that opportunity, and now we'll see what we can do."
Don't ever question the toughness of the New England Patriots. In the end, these Patriots may or may not make the Super Bowl, but Sunday certainly proved they're battle-tested and ready to take on any challenge.