Foxborough, Mass. - The undefeated New England Patriots did enough things right Sunday to keep the Miami Dolphins defeated this season. In the process, they set an NFL record with their 19th consecutive regular season and postseason victories in a 24-10 win.
It wasn't always pretty, and it didn't necessarily go according to the script, but in the end head coach Bill Belichick was congratulating players and waiving to the Gillette Stadium crowd.
]()"I told our team after the game that I was really proud of what they did," Belichick said to open his post-game press conference. "I [told] the team that I felt they should be proud of what they accomplished and that no other team in pro football has done that."
What no other team has done is put together as many consecutive victories, which stretches more than a calendar year, starting with 15 consecutive victories to end the 2003 season and a 4-0 record to start the 2004 season. Because official NFL records to do not count the postseason, the Patriots current streak will go into the record books. But with the win, the Patriots also tied the NFL's post-merger record of 16 consecutive regular-season victories, and with a win next week against Seattle can tie the league's all-time record of 17 consecutive regular-season wins set by the 1933-34 Chicago Bears.
"The Patriots' achievement is not only unprecedented but also remarkable when you consider how competitive our league is today," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a statement from the NFL. "Congratulations to the entire Patriots organization on this extraordinary milestone."
In what has become typical Patriots fashion during the streak, Sunday's win over Miami was far from perfect, but featured big plays at key times to produce the same end result.
What was typical of this win was the Patriots found a way to win when things didn't go as planned. What was uncharacteristic on this day was the Patriots won despite a poor day offensively from Tom Brady, who completed just 7-of-19 passes for 76 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Not only did Brady set new career-lows in both completions and passing yards, and tie a career-worst by attempting just 19 passes, but the two-time Super Bowl MVP didn't even complete a pass during the entire second half.
Brady's output, or lack thereof, was hardly noticeable. The offensive line worked hard against a vaunted Miami defense to pound out 135 total yards rushing - including 94 from Corey Dillon in just three quarters - and allowed only one sack in solid pass protection for Brady. The defense forced three turnovers, collected three sacks, and allowed only three points in the second half despite the fact the Miami offense got within the 21-yard line on four out of five drives.
Just another New England win, in yet another way. True to form.
"Well, I think a lot of games that we won had been done the same way," Belichick said. "Players have made plays at key times in the game and they have come from all different units and different types of players. But you know, today we had a couple of big stands defensively and got some points earlier. And there have been other games where we have scored, where we beat Miami down there last year with a blocked kick and a missed field goal at the end of the game and got a long pass to beat them. So it comes in different forms. There is no set form. You just try to play a little bit bitter than your opponent. We were able to do that today."
The play of Brady and the offense started slowly and never really gained a consistent momentum. The Patriots first drive ended after only three plays when Brady threw a pass behind Kevin Kasper that was intercepted by Patrick Surtain. After a three-and-out on the next drive, an interception by rookie Randall Gay gave the Patriots the ball at the Miami 30-yard line. A roughing the passer penalty on Miami's Will Poole keyed that drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Daniel Graham and a 7-0 lead.
The Patriots final drive of the first half began when Miami punter Matt Turk hesitated with the snap and was unable to run for the first down. The ensuing drive for the Patriots started at the Miami 46, and ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Brady to David Givens. It would be the last pass Brady would complete during the game.
]()"We didn't play as well as we would have liked today," Brady said. "We turned the ball over on our first possession, got stopped a few times on third and short. Just you know, we didn't execute overall on offense. Fortunately, the defense played well and limited them to 10 points. And I am just glad we had 24."
Brady and the offense only managed 75 total yards during the second half - 36 coming on one Dillon run - but the saving grace for the offense on this day would be field position. Four times the Patriots started drives on Miami's side of the field - twice because of turnovers - three times resulting in touchdowns and the other a missed field goal attempt. The Patriots were especially effective in the red zone, scoring every time they got within Miami's 25-yard line, which easily covered up an off day from Brady.
"Defensively we stuffed them in the red area and really that is the difference in the game, Belichick said. "I don't know what the stats were, but I would say they were down there as much as we were, we were just able to come out with a few more points and that's big."
So, with the expected (the Patriots defense dominating the inept Miami offense) and the unexpected (a rare off day by Brady) the Patriots accomplished exactly what they've been doing all along - winning games. It all left Belichick and the Patriots with the opportunity to enjoy the win - and more importantly the winning streak.
"I think we are all very proud of it," Brady admitted. "You know, we start 4-0, and obviously what happened last year, we are very proud."