Pats capitalize on others' mistakes

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- On the road, the momentum and most of the crowd against them, and trailing their division rivals by seven points, the Patriots responded to the challenge with a tying touchdown right before halftime, serving notice to the Bills that it would take more than a couple of early shots to knock out the champs.

Twice in the fourth quarter, the Bills, down seven, needed to man up and deliver the same message. Whoops. Miscommunication.

That pretty much says it all about New England's record-tying 18-game win streak (including postseason play), extended Sunday with a 31-17 victory secured when Richard Seymour rumbled 68 yards to the end zone with a Drew Bledsoe fumble. When it's time to make or break, the Patriots make their breaks, while their opponents repeatedly make costly mistakes.

"It's our attitude," Seymour said. "We just have an attitude that we won't be denied. We won't lose."

And foes have had countless opportunities to turn away the Pats, yet New England answers the challenge. It's a Steve McNair interception returned for a touchdown (win No. 1), and Olindo Mare missing two late field goals and the Dolphins giving the Patriots two possessions in overtime (No. 3). It's Denver helping to make Bill Belichick's decision to take a safety the right one by not making a first down when it had to (No. 5) and later, Houston getting knocked out of field goal range in overtime (No. 6).

It's the Colts being denied four times from the 2-yard line at the end of Patriots win No. 8, and John Kasay kicking off out of bounds on the sport's biggest stage (the Super Bowl) and opening the door for more late-game heroics by the Patriots and their 15th consecutive victory.

Sunday, it was Bledsoe and Eric Moulds, who have been on the same team for two seasons and three games now, failing to be on the same page on a key third down from near midfield in the fourth quarter. With the game on the line, it was Travis Henry falling before he could get to the first-down marker. And, finally, it was the Bills botching the blocking on what was supposed to be a fake misdirection and a Bledsoe keeper around the end, allowing Tedy Bruschi and Seymour a free path to Bledsoe. Oh, that Buffalo offensive line.

And in the end, the bottom line read the same as it has each time the Patriots have played a meaningful game in the past year: New England, enough, Other Guys, too little. The Patriots haven't lost since Sept. 28, 2003, at Washington, and what's more is they'll tell you they should have won that game (and they'd be right).

The Patriots don't lose because they never seem to lose control of the game or themselves. The guess is that they don't commit as many mental errors as their opponents, and the fact is that when they do, they pick the right time to do it.

They don't jump offsides while the other guys are kicking a field goal in the fourth quarter, giving them a first down that leads to a touchdown instead, as the Bills' Rashad Baker did Sunday. No, like the antiperspirant, the Patriots don't falter when the heat's on.

And crunch time can come at any time in the game, not just in the final minutes. It came for the Patriots on Sunday after they watched a potential seven-point lead turn into a seven-point deficit when Corey Dillon fumbled at the Buffalo 3 and the Bills turned it into a 41-yard touchdown strike from Bledsoe to Moulds.

"Me, I'm highly upset," Dillon said afterward. "They had to come calm me down. They came to me and said, 'Hey, we're going to need you, so you're going to have to let that go and move on. Get your mind right and hold your composure and get back out there and play football.'

"We (get) in some situations, man, but we come through."

It could have come apart for New England right there. Instead the Patriots put together a six-play drive that concluded with Tom Brady and David Patten getting together for a 30-yard score.

Poise personified. That was New England's biggest possession of the game.

"It's kind of like a boxer," Christian Fauria said. "He gets in the ring, not really sure what he can do. The guy gives him his best punches, and he's like, 'I can stand up to this guy. Let me do my thing.'

"Nobody ever panics," Fauria adds. "A problem I think some teams have is they see things changing and think they can't do anything about it. We see things changing and we think we can do something about it. When guys play tense and tight, something always ends up happening, whether it be false starts, dropped balls, missed assignments, whatever. Especially when you're playing on the road, you've got to be as poised as can be. And we knew that. We knew this game was going to come down to us being poised, confident, and executing."

In other words, being the Patriots.

Michael Jordan said that the reason he made so many winning buckets was because, beginning with his shot to beat Georgetown in '82, he knew he would come through.

That's how the Patriots think. They believe they can win every game and perform under any circumstances because, for the majority of the past three-plus seasons, they have.

"It's all about communication," said Brady, who stood and delivered 17 completions in 30 attempts (no sacks), for 298 yards and two touchdowns despite constant blitzing by the Bills. "It's about execution and being on the same page. And the more you're in those situations, the more confident you become, and you can say, 'Gosh, we're down, but we can come back.' We were down seven points going into the 2-minute drill before the half. It's like, 'Alright, we've done this before.' "

No team in league history has won 19 consecutive games. The Patriots can do so next week, at home against winless Miami.

New England is a team with tunnel vision that acknowledges its path of perfection only when tapped on the shoulder and asked to turn around. On the field, the Patriots always have an answer. Off it, starting with Belichick, they don't seem to enjoy answering questions about their streak.

"We don't care about a record," the coach said.

"We're looking forward, not backward," said his quarterback.

The toughest remaining tilts on New England's schedule are road games against Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Kansas City, and the New York Jets, and a home game against Seattle in two weeks -- all winnable games for a team that does nothing but.

Which team will break the streak? It will be the one that doesn't break down on the way to victory. Because the Patriots haven't shown themselves to be the types to pull over and offer a lift.

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com