FOXBOROUGH -- When quarterback Chad Pennington led the Jets to a 30-17 victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium Dec. 22, 2002, the result became a bookmark to an impressive NFL streak.
Pennington was masterful that night, completing 23 of 33 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. His performance sent the Patriots to their second straight loss.
Since that time, the Patriots haven't lost back-to-back games, stringing together a 57-game regular-season run that is the second-longest since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. With a victory today over Pennington and the Jets (Ch. 4, 1 p.m.), the Patriots can move one step closer to eclipsing the San Francisco 49ers' streak of 60 games without back-to-back losses from 1995-99.
The Patriots are coming off a 27-20 loss to the Colts last Sunday, but their approach hasn't wavered.
"Whether we win or lose, people around here don't dwell on the outcome one way or the other. In that way, you're able to move on," said tight end Benjamin Watson. "Maybe after the season you can look back and say, 'We should have done that,' but during the season you don't have time to do that. There is another opponent, another good football team coming in here. So you have to go on."
Over the course of their streak, the Patriots are 11-0 in games following a loss, although quarterback Tom Brady believes that means little today.
"The consistency we've played with has been pretty good over the years. It doesn't have a whole lot of bearing on this week, unfortunately," he said. "Part of the reason why I think we haven't lost two games in a row is you learn from it and you move on and you put it behind you. You make sure you come to work on Wednesday, that you're prepared for this week. You put a lot into it and you try to go out and play at a much more consistent level. Hopefully, we can do that this week."
Brady acknowledged that the loss to the Colts was particularly stinging because the team didn't play up to its high standards. The Patriots also lost safety Rodney Harrison (broken scapula) in that game, and likely will turn to Chad Scott and Artrell Hawkins at safety today, with Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel at cornerback.
"Guys have to step up. We always pride ourselves on when one guy goes down, someone else has to come in and do the job," said inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "Losing Rodney is a big loss for us; he's a guy who did a lot of things for us."
The Jets (4-4), who are coming off their bye, are hoping to stay within striking distance of the first-place Patriots (6-2) in the AFC East. If the Patriots win, they would improve to 5-0 in the East and take a three-game division lead with just seven to play.
When the teams met in Week 2, big scoring plays by receivers Laveranues Coles (46 yards) and Jerricho Cotchery (71 yards) helped the Jets slice into a 24-0 deficit in the Patriots' 24-17 victory. Among the most significant changes for Eric Mangini's Jets since that time is the emergence of rookie running back Leon Washington, a fourth-round pick out of Florida State who leads the team with 397 yards on 86 carries (4.6-yard average).
Also, kickoff returner Justin Miller has rocketed to the top of the NFL charts alongside Patriots rookie Laurence Maroney, as he's averaging 29.7 yards per runback and has scored two touchdowns.
Containing big plays has been a hot topic of discussion among the Patriots in the days leading up to the game, as New England puts its streak on the line.
Asked if he's proud of the team's run of 57 games without consecutive losses, coach Bill Belichick said now isn't the time to assess such feelings.
"When you're right in the middle of something, the situation we're in right now, we'll just take a look at what you can control and what's at hand and that's where my focus is -- not three weeks from now, not three weeks behind," he said.
"Certainly there are things that we've done this year that we need to do better and we can improve on, so I'm not saying there's no significance to them. But that's already been identified. That's already been looked at and that's already been addressed. What really needs to be addressed now is taking information and applying it to this particular game. That's what we try to do."
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com.