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Patriots’ Streak a Real Winner

So this is how Sweeps Week played out in New England:

Two days after the Boston Red Sox produced a reward-winning drama, sweeping the Angels out of the American League playoffs, the New England Patriots continued to channel history, becoming the first NFL team to sweep 19 games in succession.

Several NFL teams have won 18 games in a row. Before Sunday, there were six of them, featuring some of the biggest names to ever play or coach in the league -- George Halas, Bronko Nagurski, Sid Luckman, Don Shula, Bob Griese, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, John Elway.

But 19-0 belongs to a bunch of guys named Vrabel and Bruschi and Andruzzi and Koppen, mixed and matched to year-long perfection by a poker-faced coach who makes Tom Landry’s fedora look wild and crazy, Bill (Don’t Smile When You Say That) Belichick.

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Typically, the lunch-pail Patriots set the record on an afternoon when their quarterback had his worst statistical day as an NFL starter; when they converted only four of 14 third-down situations; when they were outgained by nearly 100 yards by a punchless Miami Dolphin team that fell to 0-5 with its 24-10 loss to New England at Gillette Stadium.

As they did throughout much of their streak, the Patriots got by on these sorts of stats:

* Opposing quarterbacks knocked out the game: Two (Jay Fiedler, ribs; A.J. Feeley, concussion).

* Opposing punter so rattled he runs when he should have punted, turning the ball over to New England on downs and setting up the Patriots for a gift touchdown just before halftime: One (Matt Turk).

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* Turnovers converted into Patriot touchdowns: Two (an interception thrown by Fiedler, a fumble lost by Fiedler).

On a day Tom Brady completed only seven of 19 passes for 76 yards, he also passed for two touchdowns. Two scoring passes that covered a half-dozen yards -- a one-yarder to Daniel Graham in the first quarter, a five-yarder to David Givens in the second.

That’s Belichick Ball, a no-frills, few-thrills approach that might not be sweeping the nation, but happens to be 19 for 19 since Sept. 28, 2003. Broken down, that’s 12-0 to close the 2003 regular season, plus 3-0 in the playoffs, plus 4-0 to open the 2004 season.

No other team in the NFL’s 85-year existence can stake a claim to 19-0. Five are tied for second at 18-0: the 1997-98 Denver Broncos, the 1989-90 San Francisco 49ers, the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins and the 1933-34 and 1941-42 Chicago Bears.

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Some of those teams rolled over the competition. During their 18-game run, the 41-42 Bears beat opponents by an average of 24.1 points a game. The 97-98 Broncos (15.2) and the 89-90 49ers (14.7) averaged more than a two-touchdown victory margin during their 18-game streaks.

En route to the first 18 victories in their streak, the Patriots’ average winning margin was 8.9 points. Included were overtime wins over Miami and Houston, a 9-3 home triumph over Cleveland and a pair of 12-0 shutouts of Dallas and Miami.

The Patriots don’t roll over opponents. They just roll victories off the assembly line. And in today’s NFL, rigged as it is to dilute dynasties and promote mediocrity, that makes the Patriots’ streak as impressive as any before it.

The Halas Bears and the 72-73 Dolphins didn’t have to deal with free agency and weighted schedules. The 89-90 49ers didn’t have to deal with a salary cap. The 97-98 Broncos dealt with the cap by trying to circumvent it, resulting in a series of league sanctions for salary cap violations.

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Working within the restrictions of the modern-day NFL, the Patriots have blown away the competition where it matters most -- the victory column. The next longest active winning streak in the NFL after New England? It’s 4-0, shared by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets and Giants.

Consider this: On Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons, led by Michael Vick, tried to open a season 5-0 for the first time in their 39-year history.

They were playing at home against the Detroit Lions, who did not win one road game during the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons.

The Falcons lost, 17-10.

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Or consider this: The Seattle Seahawks took a 3-0 record into their Week 5 home game against St. Louis. The Seahawks were 8-0 at home last season. The Rams had split their first four games of the season, and were hardly convincing while doing it.

Not surprisingly, the Rams fell behind the Seahawks by 17 points in the fourth quarter.

And then St. Louis rallied to force overtime, pulling the game out there, 33-27.

Five weeks into the 2004 season, only New England (4-0), Philadelphia (4-0) and the Jets (4-0) remain unbeaten, the Eagles staying that way because they were idle Sunday.

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Almost everywhere, it’s an impossible league to figure.

Jacksonville came into its game at San Diego with a defense yielding an average of 13 points a game -- and lost to the Drew Brees-led Chargers, 34-21.

Tampa Bay was winless and looking hopeless as it visited New Orleans. Buccaneer Coach Jon Gruden benched Brad Johnson, then watched his replacement, Chris Simms, get knocked out of the game in the first quarter. So Gruden turns it over to Brian Griese, and Griese completes 16 of 19 passes, and the Buccaneers beat the Saints inside the Superdome, 20-17.

Carolina is 1-3 after reaching the Super Bowl.

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The New York Giants are 4-1 after going 4-12 and claiming Kurt Warner off the past-pull-date shelf.

Tennessee and Green Bay, quarterbacked by Steve McNair and Brett Favre, both take 1-3 records into tonight’s “Monday Night Football” encounter.

In a league where “on any given Sunday” has become both a membership pledge and a marketing slogan, there is now only one given: The Patriots winning on Sunday.

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Longest Winning Streaks

The teams with the longest winning streaks in NFL history, including playoff victories (By year divides victories by first and second year):

*--* Wins Team By Year Years 19 New England Patriots 15-4 2003-04 18 Denver Broncos 5-13 1997-98 18 San Francisco 49ers 8-10 1989-90 18 Miami Dolphins 17-1 1972-73 18 Chicago Bears 7-11 1941-42 18 Chicago Bears 5-13 1933-34

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