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JACKIE MACMULLAN

They're like a broken record

So, Bill, what about the streak?

Uh-oh.

It was an inevitable question for the head coach of the Patriots, but you knew the fallout wouldn't be pretty.

It's akin to asking the Red Sox if they've seen Aaron Boone lately, or Antoine Walker if he planned on squeezing in 18 holes with Danny Ainge.

Bill Belichick has built his legacy on a one-game-at-a-time mantra. He is acutely aware that if his team beats the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it will tie the professional football record for most consecutive wins with 18. He's also acutely aware his team was blown away by Buffalo, 31-0, last season.

He has no time for and no interest in chasing the 1989-90 San Francisco 49ers or the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins or the 1933-34 Chicago Bears or the other three teams that have won 18 straight.

"Right now, a streak of one division win is what I'm looking for," said Belichick, between gritted teeth.

Aw, that's why we love the big lug. Belichick's demeanor can be annoying and refreshing at the same time. He is a student of history, and will undoubtedly, someday, appreciate his team's accomplishments. The operative word here is someday. While the building of a legacy is in session, there's no talking or laughing in class.

After the Patriots won their second Super Bowl, Tedy Bruschi said, "I can finally allow myself to enjoy it. We've been doing `one game at a time' for so long, and it was the key to our success, but it's great to let loose and acknowledge we're really good."

That feeling is history. It's a new team with new players.

"What does the streak do for us?" newcomer Keith Traylor asked. "It doesn't get us into the playoffs. It doesn't win us a Super Bowl ring. I could care less about it."

Traylor played for the last team that won 18 in a row, the Denver Broncos of 1997 and 1998. He sees similarities in Belichick and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

"You've got two hard-nosed coaches who don't take any b.s.," Traylor said. "And they both go with the attitude of, `Win one. OK, now win another.' "

Richard Seymour understands why people are interested in New England's run at a new milestone.

"It's always nice to go down in history as one of the best," he said, "but even if we did break the record, we wouldn't be able to enjoy it anyway. We'd have other things on our minds."

He has a point. The Red Sox celebrate a postseason berth with champagne and bouquets; the Patriots don't celebrate at all. They simply keep their heads down and plow forward.

"I'm sick of talking about the streak," said tight end Christian Fauria. "When people ask, I just change the subject. The streak won't put more money in my pocket, it won't make me stronger. We're all on the same page with this. So, when somebody asks, it's a tap dance. A little tap to the left, then a little tap to the right . . . "

For the record, the last game the Patriots lost was on Sept. 28, 2003, to the Washington Redskins. It was Week 4 of the season, and Tom Brady threw three interceptions and the team committed eight penalties for 64 yards.

"I had just had surgery on my arm," recalled linebacker Mike Vrabel. "I remember trying to find a place in my house to watch the game. I was upset. I was yelling and screaming and throwing stuff just like any other fan."

Since then, it's been 17 up and 17 down, including 15 in a row to win the Super Bowl. This season's wins over Indianapolis and Arizona have prompted experts to wildly speculate whether they can run the table with an undefeated 2004 ledger.

"The only season I was ever undefeated at anything was when I was 10 years old, and my father was my baseball coach," Vrabel said. "He stacked our team with all the older kids, and we beat a bunch of 8-year-olds every week."

Talk of an undefeated season would surely send Belichick into orbit. Let's focus on one distraction at a time, shall we?

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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