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Making critical plays nothing new for Patriots

Foxborough, Mass. - The New England Patriots historic winning streak officially became official following Sunday's 13-7 win over the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots set the NFL's all-time regular-season record with 18 consecutive wins, the longest regular-season wining streak in the 85-year history of the league.

The Patriots have won the last 21 times they have taken the field - the all-time pro football record for consecutive total victories - but they are only now atop the list because the NFL's record books recognize only regular season contests. They eclipsed the mark of 17 straight regular-season wins Sunday set by the 1933-34 Chicago Bears.

"I think our team acknowledges it, and I think we are proud of the fact we are 6-0 this year," Quarterback Tom Brady said of his team's current streak. "This team hasn't taken anything for granted in awhile, and I think that has shown that we can be pretty successful for us. Because of that, it is like 'Why change? Why change the way it is going?' We don't plan to, and our approach is going to be the same that we just have to win one game a week. That is what this team is all about."

Under the principle of Head coach Bill Belichick's one-game-at-a-time mantra, the Patriots extended the streak Sunday by doing many of the same things that have made them successful on previous occasions. In a game where only two touchdowns were scored, and 17 of the game's 20 points were scored in the second quarter, several key scenarios demonstrate the slim difference between failure and success for the Patriots.

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]()After the Patriots took a 3-0 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri, the Jets took the ball on their opening offensive series and promptly drove 56 yards on 11 plays. Facing a third-and-one on the Patriots 19-yard line, Chad Pennington rolled to his right and completed a short pass to fullback Jerold Sowell in the flat. Sowell was hit by Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson and coughed up the ball, which was recovered by rookie cornerback Randall Gay at the Patriots 7-yard line.

The play, which would turn out to be the Jets' only turnover in the game, swung the early momentum in favor of the Patriots after New York had established an early ability to move the ball.

"That was big," Cornerback Ty Law said. "It stopped their momentum, because they had the momentum at the time. So it was good that we were able to create a fumble and get it back and swing the momentum back in our favor. You never know what would have happened if they go down there and score three points or score a touchdown. You never how the game would have went from there."

No other play or series of plays exemplified the Patriots ability to execute critical plays at critical times more than their scoring drive with less than two minutes remaining to end the first half. Trailing 7-6 after a 1-yard touchdown run by Pennington, the drive immediately answered a New York touchdown and would be the only touchdown the Patriots would muster.

"Really, the difference in the game was the two-minute drive at the half," Belichick said. "Offensively, Tom [Brady] and the offensive group really answered the Jets' touchdown before the half, and that ended up being the difference."

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]()The drive was set up by Bethel Johnson's 27-yard kickoff return to the New England 38-yard line. With 1:48 left in the half, Brady completed a pass to Johnson for 14 yards and a first down. Working out of the shotgun and without a huddle, he then found Kevin Faulk open in the middle of the field for a 24-yard gain. After a false start penalty on center Dan Koppen, Brady again found Faulk for a 5-yard gain. Next was an 11-yard completion to David Patten, followed by a timeout. With 35 seconds left, a screen pass to Faulk was good for only a yard. On second-and-nine from the New York 13-yard line, Brady's pass to Faulk was incomplete, but the Jets' Dwayne Robertson was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty.

The penalty kept the drive alive, but on first down Faulk was held to no gain on a run to the left. With just 11 seconds left, Brady lined up in the shotgun. He took the snap, but finding no reads immediately open he was forced to roll to his right. Running out of time and field, Brady threw across his body and found Patten in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.

Brady went 5-for-6 on the drive for 63 yards, displaying many facets of his big-play ability on a drive when the Patriots needed it the most.

"It ended up being the [game-winning touchdown]," Brady said. "They scored that touchdown and it was important for us to put some points up there. The guys made some great plays. Kevin Faulk made a huge play running by the linebacker there. David Patten made a great catch in the end zone. It did end up being a huge [deal]."

Although they appeared to have control much of the game, the Patriots at no point held a lead larger than six points. Leading 13-7 with just more than eight minutes remaining in the game, the Jets were afforded one last chance to win again at Gillette Stadium, something no other team had done since the Jets' 30-17 win on Dec. 22, 2002.

The Jets methodically worked their way down the field, including converting a crucial fourth-and-one play on a quarterback sneak by Pennington on the Jets' 23-yard line. With just more than two minutes left, the game's final outcome would come down to a fourth-and-eight play from the Patriots' 30-yard line. Forced to unload the ball earlier than he probably would have liked, Pennington delivered the ball towards Wayne Chrebet, who was running down the right hash marks near the goal line. The ball nearly made it to Chrebet - who was covered well by Gay - before veteran safety Rodney Harrison tipped the ball away at the last moment.

"We knew that he was getting the ball," Harrison said. "He's a wonderful, fantastic player, and probably their best receiver. So why wouldn't [Pennington] go to him? So we had him covered.

"It's like that every week. Someone has to step up and make a play. Somebody has to step up, so we're used to it. It's not like there's a sense of panic."

In a sense, the Patriots' win over the undefeated Jets on Sunday was no different than any of the previous 20 wins that had come before it. The Patriots won their 15th consecutive regular-season home game by relying on players to step up to make big plays when the opportunities arise. Just as if it's expected. When it's all on the line.

"It's nothing new to us," said Law, who suggested the Jets are the best team they've faced this season. "We practice [critical situations] all the time. We have more situational practices than I've ever been a part of. That's what coach Belichick is all about - situations. That's what we do on a day-to-day basis. Whenever a situation presents itself, we've done it before. No one is tight, no one is nervous to make a play. We just go out and do what we do in practice."

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