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Defense pitches first shutout since 1996

FOXBOROUGH - The Dallas Cowboys came into last night's game with the league's No. 1-ranked defense, but in a 12-0 victory at Gillette Stadium the Patriots showed they have few peers when it comes to defensive football.

New England used its full assembly of characters, minus, of course, Rosevelt Colvin, who is out for the season. Big Ted Washington (broken leg) returned at nose tackle, enabling coordinator Romeo Crennel to start the game in a 3-4. The game also featured Ted Johnson (broken foot) back at middle linebacker. Tedy Bruschi commented afterward, ``The Triangle of Teds was back again.''

The Patriots hadn't shut out an opponent since Sept. 15, 1996, a 31-0 victory over Arizona at Foxboro Stadium.

Bruschi probably made the defensive stop of the game on fourth and 1 with 9:21 remaining and the ball on the 50-yard line. It seemed like a simple quarterback sneak would have worked with the tall and lanky Quincy Carter. But after a time out, Carter handed off to Troy Hambrick and Bruschi broke through past guard Larry Allen and dropped Hambrick for a 2-yard loss. That play took the last bit of wind out of the Cowboys.

``I just sort of felt it,'' said Bruschi. ``I saw a gap and felt it. I used my instincts and hit the hole. On fourth down, it's like a turnover. We considered that a turnover because it gives our offense the ball right there.''

Ty Law, who had two interceptions on the night, gave a lot of credit to Willie McGinest, who ``put a lot of pressure on [Carter].''

Law's first interception came with 2:33 remaining in the third quarter at the Patriots 19. ``This is a team that likes to run the bootleg,'' he said. ``Willie put a lot of pressure on him and he threw it behind [Jason Witten]. I was in the right place at the right time.''

About his final interception at the end of the game, ``I figured they were going to the end zone. I played the play and the situation, and he threw it right to me,'' Law said. ``I might get into a little trouble for running it out.''

He'll take any tongue-lashing he may receive from Crennel or Bill Belichick for that.

``Hats off to the entire defense, and hopefully we can do it again,'' Law said. ``We haven't had a shutout around here for a long time, so it's definitely big. It's a big confidence-booster ...

``The idea is to minimize the entire team's scoring, so this is big. A lot of credit should go to Romeo Crennel and the defensive coaches who put together the game plan. Those guys are in here night in and night out preparing a great game plan for us. We pretty much know what's going to happen before it even happens.''

Bruschi, who never bought into the hype of Bill Parcells's return to Foxborough, said the team didn't start thinking about a shutout until the last drive. ``It's always great when you get a shutout because they don't happen a lot in this league,'' he said. ``Any time you can get one, it's real positive for a team.''

The Patriots set their sights on keeping the receivers in check, and they held Antonio Bryant and Terry Glenn to four catches.

``This is a lot of fun,'' Law said. ``I haven't had this much fun since we made the run to the Super Bowl.''

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 8 2 0 .800 19.6 15.5
Dolphins 6 4 0 .600 17.7 14.7
Bills 4 6 0 .400 15.9 17.0
Jets 3 7 0 .300 19.7 21.1
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