The first thing you have to know about the record for consecutive victories that the Patriots tied on Sunday is that the NFL doesn't even recognize it as a record. The league's official Record & Fact Book does not mix regular-season and postseason numbers. Thus, for record-keeping purposes, New England's 18 straight victories amount to 15 regular-season wins.
The Pats must beat not only the Dolphins this Sunday in Foxborough but also the Seahawks on Oct. 17 to tie Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange and Big George Musso and all those other Bears who ran up 17 straight victories in 1933 and '34.
Can Miami beat New England and end the streak? I don't think so, but when a team comes in with a well-nurtured rage, you never know.
Playing at home, Buffalo seemed primed to upset New England on Sunday. The defense was flying to the ball and gang tackling and showing serious enthusiasm. It also didn't hurt that the Bills got lucky when Brian Moorman dropped a punt snap, picked the ball up and took off for a 34-yard run, setting up the second-quarter touchdown that put the home team up 17--10.
At one point late in the third quarter I thought Buffalo was going to win. The Bills loaded up with three tight ends and max protection for Drew Bledsoe and got some powerful running from Travis Henry out of that alignment. They dug their way out of a hole from their own two-yard line, moving the ball 41 yards, and I thought the Patriots were starting to wear down. But then Bledsoe overthrew the third tight end, Ryan Neufeld, and strong safety Rodney Harrison cracked Neufeld in the back, knocking him out of the game. Goodbye, three tight ends.
Miami has a good defense, but I don't know how anybody can hold down New England's attack. In the opener against the Colts, it was dink and dunk. The following week against the Cardinals, it was heavy running with Corey Dillon. And against Buffalo, it was bombs away facing a defense that sold out on blitzes. Supposedly, Tom Brady's weakness is the same weakness that Joe Montana suffered from, lack of the long ball. But there's no more unpredictable offensive coordinator than Charlie Weis, and he handed his quarterback a first-class ticket and told him to let it fly. The result was four completions of 30 yards or more. Some weakness.
The Patriots' defense can be bruised by a strong, committed ground attack; Indianapolis and Buffalo ran on it. No one has really tested All-Pro cornerback Ty Law, who looks as if he's off to a slow start. But the Dolphins aren't in shape to test anybody--on the ground or through the air. Unless the defense goes wild and forces multiple turnovers, I can't see Miami in this one. The Patriots are the pick.
On Monday night Tennessee versus Green Bay features the battle of the wounded QBs. I'll ride with the Packers at home. Ditto the Cowboys over the visiting Giants, and the Saints over the Buccaneers. The rampaging Chargers might seem like an attractive upset pick at home over no longer undefeated Jacksonville, but not to me. I'll take the Jaguars. But I've got my upset special all ready: the Texans, with a now formidable pass-catch game, over the Vikings' shaky defense.
St. Louis toyed with San Francisco on Sunday night, but the Rams will have a rougher go in Seattle against a very sound club that is coming off its bye. The Seahawks will win it on defense. Sorry, but I don't like Washington quarterback Mark Brunell against that Baltimore defense. The Ravens beat the Redskins. And the Cardinals get one of their rare road victories, this time over the winless 49ers. -- Paul Zimmerman
Last Week: 6--4 Season: 28--12