|Patriots aim for NFL record 19th straight regular-season win|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 24 December 2007 12:43|
The team that seems ready to set a record for most records set in one year can break the NFL mark of 18 straight regular-season wins on Saturday night. All it has to do is beat the New York Giants to complete an unbeaten season.
The first team to win 18 in a row? Yep, the Patriots, 2003-04 variety.
Coach Bill Belichick, a student of football history who downplays his team's place in it, doesn't care about either of those 18-game streaks. At least not now.
``I hope we can go on a one game-winning streak,'' he said Monday. ``Just get ready, have a good week and be able to win on Saturday. ... There is maybe a time to reflect on that, but right now is not it.''
So he's not focusing on the NFL single-season records New England already has set: most touchdowns scored, most wins to start a season, or most touchdown passes involving one passer-receiver combination.
Or the ones the Patriots can set in their season finale by Tom Brady for most touchdown passes, by Randy Moss for most scoring catches, and by the entire offense for most points.
Or reaching the most impressive achievement by becoming the first team to finish 16-0, with a chance to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only clubs to go unbeaten throughout the regular season and postseason.
``There have been things every week, different distractions every week that we've dealt with,'' Belichick said one day after the Patriots beat the Dolphins 28-7. `` I think the players have done a good job of staying focused in approaching the games, coming to work, working hard and paying attention, putting the team first.''
That approach worked during New England's first 18-game streak that broke the record of 17 set by the Chicago Bears in 1933-34.
It began in the fifth game of the 2003 season with a 38-30 win over Tennessee.
The Patriots were missing seven starters and the Gillette Stadium crowd seemed to be paying as much attention to the Boston Red Sox's 5-4 win over Oakland in the American League playoffs. But New England overcame a 27-24 deficit in the final four minutes.
``We went out there with more heart than we've had in a long time,'' offensive tackle Matt Light said at the time. ``This was the kind of play that made us champions'' two years earlier.
Of the next seven wins, five were by six points or less - far closer than this season, in which 11 of the 15 victories have been by at least 17 points.
The Patriots wrapped up the 2003 regular season with a 31-0 rout of Buffalo, then knocked off Tennessee and Indianapolis on their way to their second Super Bowl win, 32-29 over Carolina.
They began the 2004 season with a 27-24 win over Indianapolis in which Willie McGinest sacked Peyton Manning one play before Mike Vanderjagt missed a field goal attempt with 19 seconds left.
``We can't win a lot of games playing like we did tonight,'' McGinest said.
But they did, winning five more before rolling into Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, 2004, just four days after the Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years.
And that's where the 18-game streak - 21 including playoffs - ended, in a 34-20 loss in which Tom Brady threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. It was the Patriots' first loss since Sept. 28, 2003, 20-17 to Washington.
Taking the one-game-at-a-time stance that is the Patriots' motto to this day, linebacker Mike Vrabel downplayed the end of the victory string.
``It was never about the streak; that was never part of our preparation,'' he said. ``It wasn't this week against the Steelers, either. We just didn't play well enough to win, that's it''
The Patriots went on to beat Philadelphia for their second championship.
Just as the Giants, Saturday's opponent, won the Super Bowl in the 1990 season. That came after their 13-game regular-season winning streak ended that year, Belichick's last as their defensive coordinator.
The Giants had won their last three regular-season games in 1989 and their first 10 in 1990. Then they lost at Philadelphia, 31-13. That began a 3-3 stretch in their last six games before the playoffs.
Belichick remembers the media reaction:
``We were no good and the team had peaked and everybody had passed us and we were lucky to get into the playoffs,'' he said. ``That was pretty much the story line on that team.
``Go back and read the articles. That's the way it was. We lost our starting quarterback. (Phil) Simms got hurt. We were no good on defense, no good on offense. We were just a bad football team. That's what I remember about that year, the last six games of the season.''
But it didn't end up so badly.
``It sure didn't,'' Belichick said.
Still, he knows the perception of a team can change in a hurry.
So reaching a 19-game winning streak on Saturday is less important than winning just one game against a Giants team that is 10-5 and clinched a playoff berth in Buffalo on Sunday.
``I don't think we'll have any trouble getting our attention, any of our attention - players, coaches or anybody - against the Giants,'' Belichick said. ``They're a good football team. They've proved it all year long.''