Mark Twain was dead before there was a National Football League, but I’m sure if he were alive he would agree that the demise of the Patriots has been greatly exaggerated.

The worst 6-2 team in NFL history bumped its record to 7-2 at its intermission with a 55-31 demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots’ offense erupted like Mount St. Helens, producing 610 total yards, the requisite style points and the most points scored in the NFL in a game this year.

After all the kvetching and lamenting about the unimpressive state of the Patriots, here they sit at 7-2 going into their bye week with as good a chance of winning the American Football Conference as anyone. Who scares you in the AFC now?

Kansas City? Its offense still has the training wheels on. Indianapolis? It doesn’t have Reggie Wayne or a running game. Cincinnati? It’s bipolar. Denver? Peyton Manning has a lot of weapons, including some guy named Welker, but the Broncos play like Doug Moe’s old Denver Nuggets teams — defense optional.

Even with the injuries, the offensive inconsistency, and occasional ineptitude and alleged decline in the franchise quarterback, the Patriots have as good a chance as anyone in an AFC that has a field of contenders as large as the Boston mayoral race before the primary.

‘Look, we’re a lot better now than we were two months ago in September. I don’t care if we won or lost or whatever it is, we’re a better football team.’ -- Bill Belichick

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As certified Belichick buddy Nick Saban likes to say of his Alabama Crimson Tide, it’s about the process.

But the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick have enjoyed the best of both worlds through the first nine games. It hasn’t always been pretty or easy, but they’ve managed to focus on the process and get results at the same time.