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NFL

New England simply the model franchise

From the salary cap to the streak, Bill Belichick and the Pats have it conquered.

By ROGER MILLS
Published October 15, 2004

What the Patriots have accomplished over the past 14 months has left coaches and general managers in awe.

Despite the challenges of free agency and coaching carousels, New England has been able to win two Super Bowls in three years. That's pretty darn good.

But entering Sunday's home game against the Seahawks, the Patriots (4-0) have won an NFL record 19 consecutive games, including 16 straight in the regular season. Their last loss was 20-17 to the Redskins on Sept. 28, 2003.

Now, that's outstanding.

"Ever since free agency started, there seems to be more parity, (so) a record like this takes on more significance," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said in Seattle. "But any way you slice it, it's an unbelievable thing they've done."

There have been dominant teams in the past. The Bears twice won 18 in a row (1933-34, 1941-42) and three other teams - the Dolphins (1972-73), 49ers (1989-90) and Broncos (1997-98) - also made it to 18 straight. But that was before the modern free-agency era in which teams struggle to keep continuity in the locker room and on staff.

Rams coach Mike Martz said he "can't even fathom" winning 19 straight and believes getting to the milestone starts with coach Bill Belichick.

"(It's impressive) in modern NFL football, to do that with all the personnel issues that you have every year and to keep the staff together the way (Belichick's) done it," Martz said. "He's clearly the diamond of the coaches in this league and deserves special notice, credit and praise for everything that he's done."

Accused of having about as much personality as a piece of sheet rock, Belichick has molded the team in his own image. On the Patriots roster there are few superstars and even fewer outrageous personalities. No one tries to upstage a teammate. The franchise embodies teamwork to such a degree that it does not introduce game-day starters, on offense or defense.

Belichick's key philosophy is that a good team is a grounded team.

"One of the best things he does is he keeps everybody level-headed," Martz said. "It isn't a team of superstars. He has a real solid team atmosphere and he keeps their feet on the ground because he has his feet on the ground. ... That's how he coaches, that's why he's got it going so well."

Here's some proof. The Patriots beat the Dolphins 24-10 Sunday despite quarterback Tom Brady completing a career-low 7-of-19 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He did not complete a pass in the second half.

"Players have made plays at key times in the game and they have come from all different units and different types of players," Belichick said after the game. "So it comes in different forms. There is no set form. You just try to play a little bit better than your opponent. We were able to do that."

Through the streak, the Patriots have had huge kicks from Adam Vinatieri, three-interception days from cornerback Ty Law, 68-yard fumble returns for a touchdown by end Richard Seymour. And it doesn't hurt that they play in frigid Foxboro, Mass., where polar bears complain about the chill.

Like the Bucs, the Patriots had to make the difficult decision of letting go iconic players because of the salary cap.

"It's a great tribute to Belichick and the organization," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "They've done a tremendous job with the cap. They've moved some players out of there, like (safety) Lawyer Milloy, (defensive tackle) Ted Washington and (quarterback) Drew Bledsoe, very much like what's happened here. They brought in other players and accumulated draft picks. It's been a tremendous coaching job with a great deal of collaboration of a lot of people. Everybody should be given credit."

Bucs linebacker Keith Burns, who was with the Broncos during their 18-win run, said good fortune and pride help keep a streak alive.

"What also happens is that no one wants to be the guy that actually costs his team a streak, no one wants to be the guy to make the mistake," Burns said. "Good things do need to happen, a ball bouncing the right way here and there. You have to believe that you're capable of winning every game. When you get down, you have to know that you're going to make a play to get back. But all in all, you have to be consistent at what you do, and if you are, then you make some of that luck."

It will be tested in upcoming weeks. After the Seahawks, the Patriots host the Jets and then are at Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Not surprisingly, beyond Sunday, Belichick won't allow the team to even think about extending the streak deep into the season.

"Now we're done with that," he said on a conference call. "All our focus now is on Seattle, and that's plenty. ... That is all we can really concentrate on at this point."

Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

[Last modified October 15, 2004, 01:31:23]


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