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Patriots tie streak although title would be better

Bill Belichick points out that streaks mean nothing without titles.

So he and the New England Patriots clearly would rather have their 18-game winning streak stop next week than have it end the way the first two such streaks ended for the Chicago Bears - with losses in NFL championship games.

"Our goals this year are about what our team can accomplish this year," the Patriots' coach said before Sunday's game. "It doesn't have anything to do with what happened last year, or what the Bears did in 1932 or whatever year it was. What difference does it make?"

The Patriots' 31-17 win in Buffalo on Sunday was their 18th straight, tying them with the 1997-98 Broncos; 1989-90 49ers; 1972-73 Dolphins; and the 1933-34 and 1941-42 Bears. The Cleveland Browns also did it in 1947 and 1948 in the old All-American Football Conference.

These Patriots don't seem to have the aura of the other teams or the huge stars.

But they have guys with a knack for making big plays, none more adept than Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour. On Sunday, they combined for the clincher, with Bruschi knocking the ball from Drew Bledsoe as the Bills were threatening to tie the game and Seymour returning it for a TD.

And despite a relatively no-name cast, they seem immune to the kind of pressure that in part caused the other teams to lose despite a spate of Hall of Famers.

"The more you're in those situations, the more confident you become," said Tom Brady, the perfect understated quarterback for this team. "And the more you say, `Gosh, we're down but we can come back. We've done this before."

The Broncos, Dolphins and Browns won titles the year their streaks were broken. Like the Bears, the 49ers also fell short, losing in the NFC championship game. Both were going for three straight NFL titles.

Those 1932 Bears lost to the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds in one of the most famous games of early NFL history, the "sneaker game." It was played on an icy field and the Giants overcame a 10-3 halftime deficit when coach Steve Owen dispatched clubhouse man Abe Cohen (aided by 18-year-old Wellington Mara, son of the team's owner) to fetch sneakers for traction.

The Giants used them and won 30-13, ending Chicago's streak.

"We were helpless," said Bronko Nagurski after he and his teammates slid around on the nubs of their worn-down cleats.

"Those damn rubber shoes," snarled George Halas, the team's owner-coach.

Eight years later, the Bears were at Washington's Griffith Stadium in a game featuring the two best quarterbacks of their era: Chicago's Sid Luckman and Washington's Sammy Baugh. The Redskins won 14-6.

The 1990 49ers were also seeking a third straight title after arguably the best of their five Super Bowl winners had beaten Cincinnati 20-16 two years earlier, and Joe Montana and Jerry Rice stampeded Denver 55-10 the previous season.

They won their first 10, and so did the Giants as the football world anticipated a meeting of undefeateds on a Monday night in Week 12 at Candlestick. Instead, both teams were 10-1 - the Giants lost in Philadelphia and the 49ers fell 28-17 at home to the Rams in Week 11.

The 49ers beat the Giants 7-3 in that Monday nighter, but lost 15-13 in the NFC title game, and New York went on to beat Buffalo 20-19 in one of the classic Super Bowls.

Miami's 1973 team is obscured by the 1972 Dolphins of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and the No-Name defense, which went 17-0 to become the only unbeaten team of the modern era.

That streak ended in the second game of the next season, a 12-7 loss in Oakland. But the Dolphins went on to win the title again, beating Washington 14-7 in the Super Bowl.

Denver had won the Super Bowl after the 1997 season and won its first 13 in 1998, with a showdown coming in Miami on a Monday night in Week 15, with the Dolphins attempting to uphold the honor of the '72 team. Instead, the Broncos stumbled against a very average Giants team at the Meadowlands, losing 20-16 on a 37-yard touchdown pass from journeyman Kent Graham to Amani Toomer with 48 seconds left.

The Broncos were clearly looking ahead.

"Our focus has been off the past few weeks," safety Steve Atwater said. "We weren't focusing on the opponent as much as we were focusing on being 12-0, 13-0 and 14-0. ... I can truly say our ultimate goal this game was to be 19-0, not to beat the New York Giants."

Their true ultimate goal still was achieved. They won their second straight Super Bowl that year, beating Atlanta 34-19 in John Elway's final game.

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