Patriots Hope to Extend Winning Streak

Friday, January 30th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ The New England Patriots end most practices working on game situations, with coach Bill Belichick telling them they are down two points with four minutes left, or four points with two minutes left, so they can work on their comebacks. Talk about a waste of time.

The Patriots haven't needed a comeback since Nov. 23 _ the last time they've trailed in a game _ and they haven't lost at all in 14 games over four months. So it's probably fair to ask: Can they even remember what it feels like to lose?

``We know that every week we've come close to losing,'' cornerback Ty Law said. ``We practice those situations so we're prepared for anything.''

Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 17-0, have won more games in a row to finish the season. The Patriots won't be able to match that perfect record this year, but they're hoping they can end the season the same way.

``If you go 16-0 but you lose the Super Bowl, why do all that work and lose?'' Law said. ``I'd rather be 9-7 and win the Super Bowl.''

New England lost its opener 31-0 to the Buffalo Bills and then lost again on Sept. 28 to the Washington Redskins to drop to 2-2. Two months later, after the Patriots had won eight in a row to improve to 10-2, they still didn't look like a Super Bowl contender.

Nine of their first 12 games could very well have been losses, including the Nov. 30 victory over Indianapolis that wasn't settled until the Patriots stopped the Colts with a goal-line stand on the last play of the game. With the winning streak at eight, Belichick shook his head with disdain after a reporter referred to New England as dominant.

``I think that's a joke,'' he said. ``The ball's inside the 1 yard-line on the last play of the game. Who's dominating whom?''

With one week left in the regular season, the streak was at 11 but the largest margin of victory was just two touchdowns.

``The Patriots have gone through one of the ugliest winning streaks in the history of this game,'' CBS announcer and former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms said during Super Bowl week. ``No doubt about it.''

Try telling that to the Panthers.

``Fourteen straight wins,'' tackle Brentson Buckner said. ``They must be doing something right.''

The Patriots are doing a lot right, and one reason is because Belichick insists on working on things like the two-minute offense even though it hasn't come up too often. One often-cited example was the intentional safety that they worked on in training camp one day and pulled out when they were backed up on their own goal line against Denver in Week 9.

Long-snapper Lonie Paxton sent it over punter Ken Walter's head for a safety that gave the Broncos a three-point lead. But with the improvement in field position the Patriots got from a defensive stop, they scored the game-winning touchdown.

``Coach prepares us for every little thing,'' defensive lineman Dan Klecko said. ``We never go into a game not expecting a situation. We go over every situation, every little thing in practice.''

Another example was Tom Brady's pooch punt on Dec. 7 that pinned Miami on the 1-yard line and set up a safety. Brady had been warned that week that it might be coming.

``Everything we've been over, it has happened,'' wide receiver Deion Branch said.

So even if New England can't stop Carolina from taking the lead on Sunday, at least they should know what to do.