BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots enjoyed a "hat and t-shirt" day on Sunday, clinching the AFC East title for the third straight year and their ninth playoff berth in the last 11 years.
"That's one of our goals at the start of the season; to meet the challenge of our division. Our players have done that," head coach Bill Belichick said after the 41-23 win over the Broncos in Denver. "They've done a good job. They've met a lot of challenges, this was a big one."
"Never gets old," said nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who wore his new AFC East Champions hat to the podium after the game. "You work so hard the whole year to get to just one of the steps, and this is one of them. Come out as division a champ, that's awesome. There were a lot of games we had to fight and battle our tails off, but we never give up. We have to continue to do that. The more we fight the better this team gets. It can do us some good justice to keep fighting."
Pats On Clinching AFC East
"It feels real good. A lot of work goes into where we are right now," said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. "We have to be happy, but not too happy. We have to continue to play, we have two more games and we have to keep working."
For some, getting the hat and t-shirt is extra special.
"I feel great. It's been a long time for me to get back to the playoffs," said veteran lineman Mark Anderson, who hasn't been to the postseason since his rookie season in 2006, when his Chicago Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl. "We got the victory, and that's the most important thing."
For others, they make great gifts for friends and family.
"I give it away usually. Sometimes it's hard to find someone to give a 3-X to though," joked guard Logan Mankins. "The hat is easy to get rid of."
Mankins is looking more towards a hat and t-shirt they would get in February by winning the final game of the season.
"That's the most important one. I don't have any of those yet, so I'm trying to get that," he said. "I'll give this one to someone and they'll be happy."
At 11-3, the Patriots currently stand as the AFC's top seed. Pittsburgh is currently 10-3 with a Monday Night matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. The Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans both lost on Sunday and sit at 10-4. As it stands, the Patriots are well-positioned to possibly finish as a #1 or #2 seed and get a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Both of New England's remaining games, against Miami and Buffalo, are at home.
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