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Original Issue

Far from Perfect

There's still a looooong way to go before the Patriots hit 19--0

NEW ENGLAND'S 6--0 start has talk radio and message boards humming about whether the Pats will go undefeated and win their fourth Super Bowl. But the topic gets little play among opposing general managers. "I don't think any of my peers have had any conversations about it," one club executive said early this week. "It's only six weeks. What happens if Tom Brady or Randy Moss gets hurt? You're always one injury from being in trouble in this league. A couple of interceptions, a fumble or two, a call that doesn't go your way, and everything can change."

Perhaps, but that hasn't stopped the speculation as to whether the Patriots will join the 1972 Dolphins as the only teams to go undefeated and untied in a season. New England has dominated opponents, winning every game it has played by at least 17 points. The Pats nearly doubled up on the Cowboys, who entered the game 5--0 and were considered the class of the NFC.

Each of the executives interviewed agreed that the Patriots and the defending champion Colts are a cut above the rest of the league at this point. But none were ready to concede the Super Bowl title. Nor does the notion that as a whole the NFC is inferior to the AFC gain much traction, even though the latter conference has won eight of the last 10 Super Bowls, including the last four.

"Everybody in the NFL has a lot of respect for what the Patriots have done over the last seven years, but there's a long way to go to see who stays healthy and how everyone is playing," said an NFC executive. "The way I would say it is, everyone is respectful but not intimidated by what they've done."

As for the Pats themselves, they're having none of this talk of 19--0. "That is the most ridiculous thing we've ever heard," veteran strong safety Rodney Harrison said when asked about a perfect season. "A lot can happen. You've got injuries and different things. For us to be thinking about anything but the next game is absurd."



UNEQUALED Brady and Moss asserted the AFC's mastery.