FOXBORO, Mass. (AP)—Bill Belichick let a rare smile crease his face before reminding his New England Patriots what their record winning streak meant.
“He said, `Congratulations on the streak, great job. Now we’ve got to think about Seattle,’ “ safety Rodney Harrison said.
At least their dour coach, who downplayed the streak all season, gave the Patriots some time to savor their NFL record 19th straight win, 24-10 over the winless Miami Dolphins on Sunday, before they start preparing for their next game against the Seahawks.
“It doesn’t mean anything right now because we are still in the middle of the season,” cornerback Ty Law said in a very quiet locker room. “The fruit will taste a little bit sweeter if we can give ourselves an opportunity to play for another championship.”
The Patriots (4-0) won with two touchdown passes by Tom Brady, who had his worst statistical start as a pro, and two turnovers by offensively inept Miami.
The Dolphins trailed 24-10 before reaching the New England 1-yard line on their last series. But quarterback Jay Fiedler hurt his ribs and back on a 12-yard sack and, two plays later, A.J. Feeley suffered a concussion as he threw a fourth-down incompletion and was hit by Rosevelt Colvin.
This Miami team is nothing like the one that no longer shares the record with five other teams. That one went 17-0 in 1972 and won its opener in 1973.
“As a player, you don’t think about what (the Patriots) are doing,” Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said. “We’ve got our own things to worry about.”
The Dolphins fell to 0-5, matching their worst start as an expansion team in 1966, when they won their sixth game.
New England, which can match its franchise best 5-0 start next Sunday, had shared the 18-game record with Chicago in 1933-34 and again in 1941-42; Miami in 1972-73; San Francisco in 1989-90; and Denver in 1997-98.
“They’re some great teams and it’s nice to be a part of that,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said, but “during the season the only milestone that teams want is the Super Bowl. “
The Dolphins’ problems began before the game when placekicker Olindo Mare left the field on a cart with an injured right calf. They continued until the end when Fiedler and Feeley were hurt.
“We felt good about moving the ball,” said Fiedler, who had X-rays and didn’t know if he would play next week, “but you look on the scoreboard and you only see 10 points.”
Miami added to its NFL-high 14 turnovers and scored just one touchdown to add to its total of two in the first four games. Only its defense, strong all year, kept the game somewhat competitive.
The Patriots played without injured receivers Deion Branch and Troy Brown, and another one, Bethel Johnson, was inactive. But they led 10-0 on Brady’s 1-yard pass to Daniel Graham in the first quarter and Adam Vinatieri’s 40-yard field goal early in the second.
Still, Brady finished at 7-for-19 for 76 yards and an interception..
“We didn’t do the things we set out to do,” tackle Matt Light said of the offense. “Defense helped us out a lot.”
Miami cut that to 10-7 when Fielder threw a 10-yard pass to Chris Chambers.
Then a strange play—punter Matt Turk’s failed run for a first down—gave the Patriots the ball at the Dolphins 46. Six plays later, Brady hit David Givens for a 5-yard score 36 seconds before halftime.
“He said the snap was a little bit high, but you need to kick the ball,” coach Dave Wannstedt said of Turk. “I don’t think anyone was rushing him.”
Fiedler’s fumble on the first series of the third quarter led to Rabih Abdullah’s 1-yard touchdown run, making it 24-7.
Rookie kick returner Wes Welker, Mare’s replacement who missed his only extra-point kick in college, added a 29-yard field goal that made it 24-10 late in the quarter.
“I played soccer since I was about 4, so that really helped a lot,” Welker said.
Miami needed Mare when, with a fourth-and-11 at the New England 21, the Dolphins had to go for a first down and Fiedler threw an incompletion in the end zone with 10:01 left.
If the Patriots beat Seattle, they’ll tie the mark of 17 consecutive regular-season wins by the Bears in 1933-34. And if they beat the New York Jets the following Sunday, they’ll break that record, too.
But the players weren’t thinking about that—not when Belichick actually acknowledged the 19-game record by shaking their hands on the sideline.
“He rarely celebrates anything,” Harrison said, “and to lead a team to 19 victories in a row is something to be proud of.”
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a statement saying, “The Patriots’ achievement is not only unprecedented but also remarkable when you consider how competitive our league is today. Congratulations to the entire Patriots organization on this extraordinary milestone.” … The Dolphins outgained the Patriots 295 yards to 204.