FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Late in the third quarter, Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael flinched, and Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin pushed him to the Gillette Stadium turf. McMichael didn't appreciate it and he let Colvin know it. And one can't help but appreciate how symbolic a play it was, one representative of the position both franchises find themselves.
The Dolphins are down right now, way down, and like everyone else, they're looking up at the Patriots.
There was a time not long ago when the Patriots would only manhandle Miami in their dreams. Now? The Dolphins are living a real-life nightmare, while fans in New England envision their team going undefeated. It was less then two years ago, in fact, on the final weekend of the 2002 season, when the Patriots had to rally from 11 points down with four minutes to play to win here in overtime, that these two teams could be considered equal. They both finished 9-7 that year and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
Now? They aren't even close. They're not in the same ballpark. They're not, figuratively speaking, in the same league. Miami and New England are playing the same sport, they're just on distinctly different levels.
In this tale of two teams, New England is living in the best of times; Miami the worst. The Dolphins are mired in their longest losing streak in more than a decade; are off to their first 0-5 start since the year the franchise started (1966); and have lost four straight regular-season games to the Patriots for the first time since the late '80s. The Patriots, with a 24-10 win Sunday, won their league-record 19 consecutive game (including playoffs) and a victory next week over Seattle would tie them with the 1933-34 Bears with 17 straight regular-season wins.
As time expired, Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour doused Bill Belichick with a bucket of cold liquid, all at once a celebration and an acknowledgement of an accomplishment from which the Patriots had tried to distance themselves. The distance between Belichick and his counterpart, Dave Wannstedt, could not be any greater. Wannstedt's just all wet.
The Patriots will get back to being all business this week, but for a little while, with permission, they let it all soak in. Belichick congratulated his players on the sideline and in the postgame locker room, and acknowledged the fans as he left the field. It was only a matter of time (read: once the record was the Patriots') before Belichick, a football historian, would do the same with the streak.
"That felt good," Belichick said after the game. "I told our team that I was really proud of what they did -- that I felt they should be proud of what they accomplished and that no other team in pro football has done that."
"It's something where when you get older and have grandkids, you can say, 'I was part of one of the greatest teams ever,' " David Patten said. "Hopefully, we can increase the streak. We're going to enjoy it, but the bottom line is we've got to come out and play this week. But we're going to have a good time with it this weekend, up until Wednesday."
Said Ty Law, "I think the fruit will taste a little bit sweeter if we can give ourselves an opportunity to play for another championship."
All season, whenever the Dolphins seem poised to give themselves an opportunity just to win a game, they give the ball away. They were still in it (down 10) in the third quarter until Dexter Reid recovered Jay Fiedler's fumble near midfield and the Patriots turned the turnover into a touchdown. Twice in the first half Miami give New England short fields, first when Fiedler threw an interception to Randall Gay and later when punter Matt Turk called his own number on fourth down and came up short. Both times, the Patriots put it in the end zone. All three of New England's touchdown drives began in Miami territory.
"We continue not to give ourselves a chance to win," Wannstedt said.
Meanwhile, the Patriots just do whatever it takes. On Sunday, it took 204 total yards and four red-zone stops. Field position always is key when these teams play, so the Patriots devoted plenty of attention to it during the week, bringing in help off the street (Kevin Kasper, Je'Rod Cherry) and having Harrison, the heart and soul of their defense, help out on the punt return, kickoff, and kickoff return teams.
"We had extra meetings, extra practices," Belichick said. "We must have watched, I don't know how many special teams tapes this week. It was redundant and they were sick of hearing it and maybe, I don't know, it was beaten apart. And I thought they responded well. Stuffing that fake punt, that was a big play for us. We weren't alert enough to do that last week. We were this week."
For the 19th straight week, they were better. Not by a lot, but by enough. It's been that way in a lot of their wins.
"What difference does it make whether it's by 41 or 1 point?" Patten said. "The bottom line is the win. When they look at the 19 wins, they aren't going to say, 'Well, they only won by three here and there,' it's going to be 19 wins, bottom line."
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com