By: Christopher Price
September 17, 2004

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Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
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New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

It is the 800-pound gorilla that's sitting in the middle of the New England locker room that no one wants to talk about. Ask one of the more easygoing Patriots players about it -- say, David Patten or Adam Vinatieri -- and you're likely to get a smile and a non-answer. Ask one of the more intense guys -- anyone along linebacker row, for example -- and you will likely be asked to do something anatomically impossible.

It's The Streak, one of the many aspects of this New England team that has managed to fascinate the national media. By now, everyone knows the story: Heading into this weekend's game against Arizona, New England has won 16 straight games, including the postseason (and 12 straight at Gillette Stadium). The Patriots have won 15 straight regular season and postseason games to close out 2003, compiling the second-longest single season winning streak in NFL history. The last time New England lost -- a 20-17 defeat at Washington on Sept. 28, 2003 -- Grady Little and Saddam Hussein were both still in charge, A-Rod was still in Texas and John Kerry was just another junior senator.

It's the second-longest win streak in the history of New England professional sports. The Celtics hold the mark with 18 consecutive victories between February and March of 1982. The Bruins won 14 straight during the 1929-30 season, while the Red Sox put together a 15-game win streak in 1946.

But for the Patriots, the current string isn't a 16-game winning streak. It's a series of 16 one-game winning streaks.

"I don't think it means much. I mean, I don't think we think about it,” quarterback Tom Brady said after New England's season opener, a 27-24 win over Indy. "I just think we think about next week. I mean, I'm thinking about Arizona. I am just trying to beat them, and then we'll talk about the next opponent. But you can't win all those games in one week. You have just got to start winning one, so it has got to be Arizona.”

"We're 1-0, that's it,” said Head Coach Bill Belichick after the win over the Colts. "We have 15 more to go, [and] only one we can do anything about: that's the Arizona game. That's really all we're thinking about. I don't care about last year or two years ago or 1997 or anything else.”

While Belichick says otherwise, the head coach -- an avowed follower of football history -- must know something big is going on here. According to the New England media relations department, the Patriots hold the third-longest win streak in pro football history. Their 16 consecutive wins trail the 17 straight put together by the 1976-77 Raiders and the 18 straight wins assembled by a variety of teams, including the 1989-90 San Francisco 49ers, the 1997-98 Denver Broncos and the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins.

In fact, members of that Miami team took a swipe at this New England team this week, telling the Miami Herald that no matter what happens to the Patriots over the next three games, they're still no match for a Dolphin team that won 17 straight and turned in a perfect season.

"There's absolutely no pressure on those guys,” said linebacker Nick Buoniconti. "Go 16-0 and 15-0 then tell me what the pressure is like. Winning 17 games over two years just isn't the same. Tiger Woods won four majors, but he did it over a two-year span. That's not the same as winning the four majors in one year.”

"Let's look at what the Patriots are trying to do from a mathematical standpoint,” running back Mercury Morris said. "We won 17 games in a row over one season. So if they want to match us, they have to win 17 games in a row over one season. It means nothing over two years. It's like shooting pool. If you run all the balls off the table in one game, you're great.

"But if you run the same number of balls in two separate games, you really haven't done anything special.”

The comparison to the great Miami teams of the early 1970s began last year at the Super Bowl, when someone asked Don Shula if New England could match his team. "Sure, when the Patriots get all their wins in one year,” Shula said. "If they start out 17-0 next year, then ask me that question.” At this point in the season, Belichick -- who worshipped Shula as a child growing up in Maryland while watching the Colts of the 1960s -- is inclined to agree with him.

"There's no championship team. There's been one game played this year, and that's it,” Belichick said. "And so nobody's won anything. Nobody's done anything. Everybody's got a long, long way to go and a lot of football left to play."

Christopher Price can be reached at [email protected].