FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- "It all starts with the quarterback."
When it comes to building a successful team in the NFL, how many times have we heard this? It's easily the single most important position in the game, and one could make a strong argument in all professional sports.
The Patriots have had a magical run of success since Tom Brady seized the starting role in 2001. With a victory Sunday, the franchise will record its 12th straight winning season, a stretch matched only by the San Francisco 49ers (1983-98) and Dallas Cowboys (1970-85), who each had streaks of 16 straight winning seasons. A win will also produce the team's 10th AFC East championship over that span.
Coach Bill Belichick stated the obvious Friday when pointing out that Brady "has a lot to do with it" and has "been a great player for us." Everyone knows that it's been a remarkable run for Brady and the Patriots, and with him still playing at such a high level at age 35, there is no clear end in sight. Brady's stellar 2012 season is starting to generate more chatter for MVP consideration.
Still, it never hurts to be reminded of how the "other half" lives, and that's where the Dolphins enter the picture.
Consider that in the 12-year span in which Brady has been No. 1 on the Patriots' quarterback depth chart, the Dolphins have had 16 different quarterbacks start at least one game, beginning with Jay Fiedler (2001-04) and ending with the signal-caller that Miami finally believes can be the long-term answer, 2012 first-round draft choice Ryan Tannehill (No. 8 overall pick).
In between, there were the likes of Gus Frerotte (2005), Joey Harrington (2006), Cleo Lemon (2006-2007), Trent Green (2007), Chad Pennington (2008-10), Chad Henne (2009-11) and Matt Moore (2011), among others. There was also what turned out to be a major miscue when the Dolphins had the chance to sign Drew Brees as a free agent in 2006 and went with Daunte Culpepper instead because of concern over Brees' injured throwing shoulder following surgery.
As tabulated by ESPN Stats & Information, Dolphins quarterbacks combined to complete 58.6 percent of their passes for 39,820 yards with 202 touchdowns and 201 interceptions over that time.
Not surprisingly, the Dolphins have posted a 79-92 record since 2001, the Brady-led Patriots 142-55.
When it comes to the "it all starts with the quarterback" line of thinking, no one in the league has benefited from a longer stretch with the same signal-caller than Belichick, and the coach explained Friday how that has helped shape his winning program.
"The ball runs through his hands on virtually every play, one way or another," he said. "What that player does well, what his strengths are and being able to build around them. ... Each team, each player has their own strengths and weaknesses, but if you can count on somebody being there on a consistent basis, then you can plan and work around that to a certain degree."
That's the luxury the Patriots have had since 2001, and something the Dolphins once had when Dan Marino started nine regular-season games in 1983 and put together a remarkable career through 1999.
At some point, the Patriots will have to consider life without Brady, just as the Dolphins did post-Marino. The Patriots got a taste of it in 2008 when Brady was injured, but otherwise, he has been the constant along with Belichick.
"Tom has a lot of strengths, he does a lot of things well, so there aren't a lot of limiting factors with him," Belichick said. "Really, it opens a lot of doors more than closes them."
As for Miami and the 6-foot-4, 222-pound Tannehill, the hope is those doors that have mostly been slamming shut in the post-Marino era are finally swinging open again. In comparison with the Patriots' other two rivals in the AFC East -- the Mark Sanchez-led New York Jets and the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Buffalo Bills -- the Dolphins currently look like the Patriots' biggest threat in the division. A main reason is Tannehill's potential.
"They're certainly not afraid to put the ball in his hands in critical situations, and he's done a good job of delivering for them," said Belichick, who only had to point to last Sunday's last-minute drive in which Tannehill led the Dolphins into field goal range to record a 24-21 win over the Seahawks. "He's a good player."
Good but still developing, as his 7 touchdowns-versus-12 interceptions stat line shows. Most importantly at this point, Tannehill offers the stability to which Belichick refers, paired with a first-year head coach in Joe Philbin who is still establishing a foundation for his program.
New Englanders remember what it was like when Belichick and Brady were doing the same in 2001.