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Patriots beat odds, foes

FOXBOROUGH -- Because they must, they believe in one another when none of us will. Because they're human, excuse them if they, too, are in a state of disbelief. Mild disbelief.

Miami's Olindo Mare is the second-most-accurate placekicker in NFL history. Only twice in 201 career attempts prior to his 35-yard try with two minutes to go in Sunday's game at Pro Player Stadium had the Dolphins kicker had a field goal blocked. But the Patriots' Richard Seymour defied the odds and knocked down Mare's attempt. And prior to his second attempt from 35 yards, 2:46 into overtime, Mare had missed only nine of 129 career kicks from inside 40 yards. Make that 10. Wide right.

"What are the chances?" Seymour said yesterday, not even 24 hours after the depleted Patriots had upset the Dolphins, 19-13, on Tom Brady's 82-yard touchdown connection with Troy Brown.

Indeed, what are the chances?

Not great that a rookie cornerback, Asante Samuel, taken in the fourth round out of that college football powerhouse known as Central Florida would make a juggling interception and return it for a touchdown that would ultimately provide the margin of victory over a Jets team that had won five straight at New England.

Minimal that a savvy veteran cornerback, Ty Law, hobbled by a sprained ligament in his right ankle, could ignore the pain and push off it enough to jump an out route, pick off a pass, and take it 65 yards to the crib for an insurance touchdown in an upset of the Titans, AFC finalists a year ago.

Slim to none that a defense missing four opening-day starters would force five turnovers -- enough to spark a New England triumph over the Giants despite its offense converting 1 of 11 third downs and scoring one touchdown.

And a snowball's chance in South Florida that this Patriots team, absent as many as eight starters and dressing eight rookies, would end a five-game losing streak in Miami and a 13-game skid there in September and October.

"It's been tremendous," Seymour said of his team's 5-2 start. "It's been a fun and enjoyable ride so far."

There should be nothing fun about professional football in Foxborough today. Bill Belichick was not supposed to look forward to coming to work yesterday nor telling his players they didn't have to the day after the first meeting with Miami, which, recently, had been a miserable affair. Belichick was supposed to have thrown his headset down at the end of the game, not toward the sky with glee. ("I can't remember ever doing that," he said, "I just wanted to make sure it didn't come down on me. That would have been a good ending.")

This team is supposed to be on a losing streak, not leading the AFC East by a half-game, and certainly not looking at a chance to go into the bye week 7-2 (the way New England is playing, are you really that concerned about the Browns, who just presented the Chargers with their first victory, and a trip to Denver to face what could be Danny Kanell's Broncos?)

But here's the kicker: The Patriots believe they should be 6-1, that they should not have lost by 3 at Washington four games ago, and that the only game they didn't deserve to win was the opener at Buffalo.

"The confidence is real high right now," Seymour said.

We're supposed to know better. Somebody should have expected the healthy Patriots to respond to the Attack of the Mutant Injury Bug exactly the way they have: by heightening their awareness of the little things and raising their intensity.

"When you have a lot of guys that you know can get the job done, you really don't have that edge of everybody getting to the ball," said Seymour, who ranked Sunday's win the second-most significant of his career, behind Super Bowl XXXVI. "You don't really have guys doing the little things as much because maybe you have a Rosevelt Colvin coming off the edge, or a Ted Washington, a Ted Johnson behind you, Ty Law. What we do have is older guys that are really pulling together and some young guys that want to follow that lead. We're just at a point where we have to work at it each and every week."

Can you see it? Less than a month from now, on a chilly Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. Belichick's streaking Patriots, riding a five-game winning streak, versus Bill Parcells's surging Cowboys, leading the NFC East.

The Patriots can't. Belichick, party-pooper that he is, won't even let them peek that far ahead. It ain't broke, so . . .

"I give the team all the credit in the world," Belichick said. "They've worked hard, they've played hard, and they've beaten some good football teams. That being said, we've got a long way to go. We haven't won anything yet; 5-2, that doesn't mean anything. There's nine games left, so we'll see where we are at the end.

"Right now it's on to Cleveland. We're not going to sit here and have a parade and celebrate because we won five games. We just haven't done anything yet. We have got to keep going."

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