Bill Belknap/Associated Press
Honorable mention: Dorsett's 11 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons covering high school, college and NFL
If you grew up watching the NFL in the early 1980s, you heard Pat Summerall bellow out this stat on almost every Cowboys broadcast: "Tony Dorsett hasn't missed gaining 1,000 yards since high school." With a little distance in perspective, this steak has become more impressive. Dorsett was only 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, and performed in an era when defenses were geared to stop the run. And it's not like Dorsett barely broke 1G. He gained more than 2,000 yards for Pitt in 1976, and 1,646 yards for the Cowboys in 1981. His 1,007 yards in 1977 was the low-water mark, but he didn't start until Week 10! Dorsett's fantastic run ended in the strike-shortened 1982 season (... he still led the NFC in rushing that year).
10. Dolphins win 17 straight games in one season
It's pretty tough to list the NFL's greatest streaks and leave the undefeated '72 Dolphins out of the discussion. Of course, a lot of old-time league observers would want to do just that, citing the easy schedule Don Shula's club faced that season. Here's the deal: Miami played -- and beat -- every team on its itinerary. These Dolphins are the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl ... and they played half the schedule without their Hall of Fame quarterback, Bob Griese. Don't forget that the early '70s Dolphins played in three consecutive Super Bowls, winning Super Bowls VII and VIII.
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9. LeBeau's 53 straight seasons in NFL as player or coach
Dick LeBeau has a couple of killer streaks. The first was his run as a Hall of Fame cornerback, when he started an NFL record 171 games at the position. Yet, that doesn't compare to his 53-season stretch as a player AND coach. The 74-year-old LeBeau will begin his 54th consecutive NFL campaign this season, reprising his role as Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator. Guess who finished first in team defense last year? LeBeau's guys.
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8. 1976 Bucs lose first 26 games in franchise history
This is the ultimate streak for futility in professional sports. The poor expansion Buccaneers didn't stumble out of the gate ... they bellyflopped into a pile of cow dung. Coach John McKay had to stomach his outfit bumbling its way through an 0-14 1976 expansion season, only to start 0-12 in 1977. The Buccaneers lost to every AFC team along the way and almost every NFC team. The franchise finally got off the schneid when it beat a team almost as bad as it was ... the New Orleans Saints. Call the 33-14 Tampa triumph a non-classic.
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
7. Brady's nine consecutive games with at least two TDs and no INTs
Pick a Tom Brady streak you like better. He has many ... like 31 consecutive home wins, or 335 straight passes without an interception. But at the end of the day, Brady's most impressive streak might be his nine-game run in 2010 when he threw at least two touchdowns in every game without tossing a single interception. That's incredible production with pretty much no downside. Take a look at Brady's overall numbers during those nine games: 123.2 passer rating, 24 touchdowns, zero picks. That's insane.
John Swart/Associated Press
6. McMahon wins 25 consecutive starts, including postseason
Everyone remembers the 1985 Bears, and that great "46" defense. But the bottom line is that those great clubs didn't win nearly as much when quarterback Jim McMahon was not in the lineup. From 1984 to 1987, McMahon won 25 consecutive starts (including playoff games), a little-known fact among NFL historians. Why? Because of that defense. But keep in mind that when Steve Fuller had to start in the 1984 playoffs, and Doug Flutie in the 1986 postseason, the Bears were eliminated.
Al Golub/Associated Press
5. Rice's 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons or 274 consecutive games with a catch
Which streak do you like better? We couldn't decide either. Jerry Rice might be the greatest NFL player to lace 'em up, and was even voted as such on NFL Network's "Top 100" players two years ago. His run of 11 consecutive 1,000-yard years reflected his reliability (staying in the lineup) as well as his productivity. The 274 straight games with a catch is simply phenomenal. How does a player not get shut out over a stretch that long? Rice's record streak finally ended against the Bills on Sept. 20, 2004, when he was a 41-year-old receiver for the Raiders. It was his first game without a catch since Dec. 1, 1985.
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
4. Patriots win 21 consecutive games
The name of the game in the NFL is winning, and Bill Belichick's Patriots did it better than anyone else during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. New England won an NFL record 21 straight games, including an exciting Super Bowl win over the Panthers. The streak started in Week 5 of the 2003 season, ran through the playoffs, and continued all the way through Week 8 of 2004. Although the Steelers finally halted the Patriots reign that weekend (on Halloween, no less), New England would go on to beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Paul Spinelli/Associated Press
3. Cowboys' 20 consecutive winning seasons
If winning is the name of the game, then consistency is its signature. Tom Landry finally got his Cowboys to turn the corner in 1965, when Dallas went 7-7 and broke even for the first time. The next season, the future "America's Team" would begin a 20-year run of winning seasons that didn't come to a halt until quarterback Danny White's wrist injury led to a 7-9 campaign in 1986. During those 20 years, the Cowboys went to the playoffs 18 times, the NFC Championship 10 times, and NFL Championship twice. Oh, and five Super Bowls.
David Stluka/Associated Press
2. Favre starts 297 consecutive games
You knew Brett Favre would come up at some point. Well, it's tough to argue with not missing a start for more than 18 seasons' worth of games. Considering that not even half the quarterbacks in the NFL started all 16 games in 2011, Favre's 297 straight starts is something of legend. It began when Mike Holmgren gave him his first starting nod in Week 4 of the 1992 season, and ended when Favre got hurt at 41 years young in 2010. Incredible.
1. Unitas' 47 straight games with a touchdown pass
Quite frankly, this is the mother of 'em all. Johnny Unitas' 47-game run of not being shut out of the end zone through the air spanned five seasons, from 1956 to 1960. Bear in mind the era Unitas played in, during which defensive backs could chuck receivers all the way down the field and that the average quarterback threw about 12 touchdowns per year in those days. Having stood for more than a half century, Unitas' remarkable mark is finally being threatened by Drew Brees, who currently has 43 straight games with a touchdown pass.