Turnovers Key To New England's Success

The Patriots get big plays from their defense which has been one of the keys to the team's success in 2010.

The New England Patriots finished the 2010 regular season with a 14-2 record, which is tied for the second best single-season record in franchise history, so it's only natural to wonder where they rank -- or could ultimately rank -- among New England's all-time greatest teams.

The final chapter has yet to be written since the playoffs haven't begun, but it's worth noting that the general feeling around New England these days is that this team has a better shot at winning a Super Bowl than the undefeated 2007 team did entering the playoffs.

Three years ago, the Patriots were an offensive juggernaut that was rarely tested during the regular season with the exception of close wins over the Ravens and Giants. This year's team appears to be entering the postseason at its peak, having won five of its last six games by at least three touchdowns.

The biggest difference, however, is the play of New England's defense, which has helped the Patriots produce the best turnover differential in the NFL. The Patriots led the league in takeaways and have grown from being a team with serious question marks in its secondary to one that is now considered one of the most dangerous, ball-hawking teams in the league.

In addition to forcing turnovers, the Patriots take exceptional care of the ball. They don't commit turnovers on their own end, and quarterback Tom Brady has been freakishly immune to the mistakes and mental errors that seem to plague every other quarterback in the league on a weekly basis.

Brady's '07 season is one for the ages; he set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes and a career-high 4,806 yards. This year, Brady threw 36 touchdowns and didn't even crack the 4,000-yard plateau, but one could argue he was more efficient. Brady only threw four interceptions this year and had an interception percentage of 0.8 percent, which eclipsed his 2007 percentage of 1.4 (his previous best).

The feeling now is that this year's team is more balanced and much stronger in the areas that matter the most come playoff time, such as forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. Interestingly enough, Miami running back Ricky Williams publicly criticized his team following the Dolphins' loss to New England in the regular-season finale while also praising the Patriots for playing his team harder than any team had played it all year -- a telling sign considering the game meant nothing to New England.

Clearly, Bill Belichick has this team focused on winning week in and week out regardless of what's at stake. They haven't lost a game since Nov. 7, and yet the Patriots continue to arrive at work each day looking to find ways to get better. What might seem like a tough sell for other coaches is relatively easy for Belichick.

"[They] come to work every day, want to improve [and] want to get better," Belichick said. "I think that's a great attitude and a great approach to have. I think, really, all of us should be that way. We all come in [and] there're certainly things we can all do better. Once you recognize and identify what those are, then you take the next step and figure out what you need to do to correct the situation or improve it and then you work at it.

"And then, generally, eventually, what will happen is it will improve; it will get better. I think our players, for the most part, have done a good job of taking constructive criticism. More importantly, trying to do something about it and trying to improve it. I think we've seen positive results both on the practice fields and in the games. That hard work and those corrections have resulted in a better performance."

With no game this weekend and plenty of time between now and next Sunday's playoff opener, let the comparisons begin. The true test will come when the Patriots start their Super Bowl run at home in their postseason debut.


14 Is Their Lucky Number
--The Patriots finished 14-2 in 2010. The Patriots have finished with at least 14 wins in four separate seasons. In addition to the 2010 season, the Patriots finished 14-2 in 2003, 14-2 in 2004 and 16-0 in 2007.
The Patriots join the San Francisco 49ers as the only teams to have four 14-win seasons.

Setting Records
--The Patriots only had five passes intercepted in 2010, tying the NFL mark for fewest interceptions in a single season. New England attempted 507 passes in 2010, with just five resulting in interceptions.

The only other teams to accomplish this feat were the 1960 Cleveland Browns, the 1966 Green Bay Packers, the 1990 Kansas City Chiefs and the 1990 New York Giants.

No Place LIke Home
--The Patriots finished with a perfect 8-0 record at home this year for the second consecutive season. New England has accomplished this feat five times in franchise history, including 2003, 2004 and 2007. The Patriots were the only team to finish undefeated at home this year and has won 17 consecutive regular-season home games dating back to November of 2008.

Playing Keep Away
--The Patriots also set an NFL record this year by committing only 10 turnovers, the fewest total in league history. The previous low was 12, set by Kansas City during the strike-shortened 1982 season. The previous record for a 16-game season was 13 by the Giants and Dolphins in 2008, and the Patriots' previous low was 15 in 2007.

Belichick In Rare Company
--Bill Belichick has led the Patriots to a winning record in 10 consecutive seasons. The only other NFL coach who's done this since the 1970 merger was Tom Landry, who led Dallas to 16 consecutive winning seasons from 1970 to 1985. Belichick is also one of only four coaches in NFL history to have more than one 14-win season, joining Joe Gibbs, George Seifert, Don Shula and Mike Ditka.

--The Patriots have won more than half of their games for 10 consecutive seasons. They are the first team to have done this since free agency began in 1993 and the fourth to have done so since the 1970 merger, joining the 49ers (16 in a row from 1983 to 1998), Cowboys (16 in a row from 1970 to 1985) and the Raiders (11 in a row from 1970 to 1980).

Popular Show
--The Patriots also dominated the TV ratings this year. They set a regular-season record for household rating in the Boston market with an average of 34.86 household rating in 2010. This year's number topped the 33.6 mark set in 2007. Likewise, the Patriots averaged a 6.13 share with 15 of their 16 games drawing more than a 55 share, which means 55 percent of all television sets that were on during the game were tuned in to the game itself.

BY THE NUMBERS: 65 -- The number of touchdowns scored by the 2010 Patriots, which ranks as the eight-highest total in NFL history. The Patriots own the record with 75 touchdowns scored during the 2007 season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When we left here last night we were 14-2; I think this morning we're 0-0." -- Patriots head coach Bill Belichick the morning after his team wrapped up the regular season with a win over Miami.

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