Patriots Go for the Tie, but They Need a Win

Times Staff Writer

The Times’ rating scale for this week’s NFL games:

*** * -- Don’t miss a down.

*** -- Could be good.

** -- Who let the dogs out?

* -- Stupor Bowl.

It hasn’t been easy for Boston sports fans, among the most die-hard in the nation, to struggle fruitless season after fruitless season under the Curse of the Bambino that has haunted the Red Sox for so long.

But at least Bostonians could balance that with the mystical leprechaun who settled in the rafters of Boston Garden and assured the Celtics of a charmed existence.

Not anymore. The Celtics have become mortal, and the Red Sox are still the baseball equivalent of Wile E. Coyote, forever hopelessly chasing the Road Runner Yankees.


But all is not lost for Boston fans. They have a new love, a dynasty in the making just down the road in Foxboro. Winners of two of the last three Super Bowls, the New England Patriots can further bolster the argument that they belong among the best teams in NFL history with a victory Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

It would be New England’s 18th consecutive victory, regular season and postseason, tying an NFL mark held by five clubs: the 1933-34 Chicago Bears, the Bears of 1941-42, the Miami Dolphins of 1972-73, the San Francisco 49ers of 1989-90 and the Denver Broncos of 1997-98.

The Patriots’ last defeat came in the fourth week of last season.

Of course, New England Coach Bill Belichick, a fanatic about dispersing distractions, refuses to even acknowledge the landmark in front of him.

“What streak?” he said. “We’re just trying to win a game.”

**** New England at Buffalo, 10 a.m. -- Do you think Bill quarterback Drew Bledsoe wouldn’t like to end the Patriots’ streak? Bledsoe was New England’s quarterback for nine seasons, but an injury in 2001 put Tom Brady in his place. Brady wound up as the Super Bowl most valuable player at the end of that season, and Bledsoe wound up exiled to Buffalo.

**** Indianapolis at Jacksonville, 10 a.m. -- The Jaguars are undefeated, but the Colts are the club that’s harder to stop. Jacksonville has scored 35 points, the fewest by a 3-0 team since 1970. Indianapolis had that many points before halftime of last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

** Philadelphia at Chicago, 10 a.m. -- Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb returns home, having grown up in the Chicago suburb of Dolton, Ill., but he’s not expecting an enthusiastic welcome. “We grew up Bears fans,” he said. “Some converted to Philadelphia, but you can’t expect them all to.” They may after watching the Bears’ new quarterback, Jonathan Quinn, who will be starting only his fourth game in a seven-year NFL career. He’s relieving Rex Grossman, who is out for the season because of a torn knee ligament.


*** New York Giants at Green Bay, 10 a.m. -- In his first season with the Giants, quarterback Kurt Warner is off to a good start, completing 65% of his passes. The Packers’ Brett Favre is still smarting from last week’s shootout against the Colts, when he threw for 358 yards and four touchdowns and still lost.

** Oakland at Houston, 10 a.m. -- New opponent, new quarterback for the Raiders. With Rich Gannon perhaps sidelined for the season because of a neck injury, Kerry Collins takes the reins in Oakland’s first game against the Texans. Houston quarterback David Carr, who led his team to victory last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, has not cut his hair since the fourth week of last season, saying he won’t do so until the Texans win consecutive games. He won’t need the scissors this week.

* Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 10 a.m. -- No matter how bad the weather gets Sunday in Pittsburgh, it will be an improvement for the Steelers over last week if they can see the end zone. Pittsburgh’s game in Miami was played on the fringe of Hurricane Jeanne. The Bengals also had trouble seeing the end zone last week, thanks to the Baltimore Raven defense.

** Washington at Cleveland, 10 a.m. -- All of a sudden, the Joe Gibbs era is beginning to look frighteningly familiar to the Steve Spurrier era. The Browns are hoping to beat the Redskins at home for the first time since 1969.

* New Orleans at Arizona, 1 p.m. -- The Saints’ Aaron Stecker, filling in for injured Deuce McAllister, had 106 yards rushing last week, his first 100-yard game since he gained 110 for the Scottish Claymores in a 2000 NFL Europe game. At the rate the Cardinals’ Emmitt Smith has gone downhill in the twilight of his career, he may soon be playing for the Claymores.

**** Atlanta at Carolina, 1 p.m. -- With all due respect to Falcon quarterback Michael Vick, this game is about defense. Atlanta is giving up an average of 13 points a game. Carolina counters with the group that played in last year’s Super Bowl. “Individually, the Panthers’ front seven is so talented,” Packer guard Mike Wahle said, “that even if they screw up, it comes out looking good.”


* New York Jets at Miami, 1:15 p.m. -- After starting the season 2-0, the Jets got a week off. They will get another this week in facing the Dolphins, a team searching for an offense. Miami’s only hope? Ricky Williams misses playing and thinks about all the other things he’ll miss if he has to return most of that signing bonus.

** Tennessee at San Diego, 1:15 p.m. -- The bad news for the Titans is that quarterback Steve McNair is questionable because of a bruised sternum that caused him to be hospitalized after last week’s game against Jacksonville. The good news: McNair at 50% is better than the Chargers’ Drew Brees at 100%.

*** Denver at Tampa Bay, 1:15 p.m. -- Another week for Jon Gruden, another old face in a new place trying to bring that trademark grimace to the face of his old coach. Last week, it was lineman Warren Sapp, now with Raiders, helping to beat Gruden’s crew. This week, it’s safety John Lynch, now with the Broncos after 11 years in Tampa Bay.

* St. Louis at San Francisco, 5:30 p.m. -- In happier times in the Bay Area, the 49ers took great delight in beating their archrivals to the south, the Los Angeles Rams. These days, the 0-3 49ers would take great delight in beating anybody.

*** Kansas City at Baltimore, Monday, 6 p.m. -- Last year, they were running in their own universe, a rushing rivalry that left all other running backs in the dust. The Ravens’ Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards, including a record 295 in one game. The Chiefs’ Priest Holmes had a record 27 rushing touchdowns. This year, Kansas City (0-3) is most concerned with rushing into the win column.