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Archive for Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Slow start didn’t stop New England

Patriots have won 14 in a row since dropping two of first four games

January 21, 2004

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— A team that looked like an NFL power emerged from New England's season opener.

No, not the Patriots.

They lost, 31-0, to the Buffalo Bills, who lived up to glowing preseason predictions in that game. The Patriots, meanwhile, gave no indication that they would start an amazing Super Bowl run.

The loss came five days after the surprising release of safety Lawyer Milloy, who signed with Buffalo and played against the Patriots.

Certainly, the setback must have motivated the Patriots. Some good must have come from such a problem-filled opener.

"Good?" coach Bill Belichick said. "No. No. No."

In the four months since, Buffalo faltered and missed the playoffs while the Patriots went 16-2. They take a 14-game winning streak into the Super Bowl against Carolina Feb. 1 in Houston.

"We knew from Week 1 to Week 2 that we needed to play better than we played in Week 1," Belichick said. "And, frankly, in Week 3 we felt like we needed to play better than we played in Week 2 and so forth right down the line."

The pain of the rout was compounded by linebacker Ted Johnson's broken foot -- the first of many serious injuries to key players that began with that game.

In the second game, linebacker Rosevelt Colvin broke his hip and was sidelined for the rest of the season. In the third game, nose tackle Ted Washington broke his leg and linebacker Mike Vrabel broke his arm.

Then there was the ankle sprain that sidelined cornerback Ty Law for one game and the broken foot that ended guard Mike Compton's season after two games.

"We're down in numbers, but we still have to go out and play," Law said early in the season. "It may mean we change a few schemes here and there, but overall, we know everyone on this roster can play and wouldn't be here if they couldn't."

The Patriots kept proving that. There are few big-name players, but Belichick put together a deep team that was able to fill holes with talented backups.

"This is the ultimate team defense and this is the ultimate team," Law said after intercepting three passes in Sunday's 24-14 win over Indianapolis in the AFC title game. "If we play together, we feel like we can beat anybody."

The only other team they failed to beat was Washington and they came close. The Patriots lost, 20-17, in the fourth game, but outgained the Redskins 387-250. Since then, New England is perfect.

"To win 14 in a row, I mean that's unbelievable," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I mean, who does that? Nobody does that."

The streak started Oct. 5 with a 38-30 win over Tennessee and continued with victories over the New York Giants, Miami, Cleveland, Denver, Dallas and Houston.

Then the Patriots went to Indianapolis and beat the Colts, 38-34, when Willie McGinest tackled Edgerrin James at the 1-yard line on the final play.

They won their last four regular-season games by a combined score of 91-29 while committing just four turnovers, then beat Tennessee and Indianapolis again in the playoffs.

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