Is going 16-0 something the Patriots really want to do?

Their narrow escapes the last two weeks made New England the fourth team to start a season with 12 consecutive victories in the 35 years since Miami's perfect season -- but a case can be made that losing a game sometime this month actually might help the Patriots win another Super Bowl.

At least, that's the feeling of some people on past teams that came close to winning them all, stumbled near the end, and then won the championship.

"I believe that, when things are rolling really well, even if coach (Bill) Belichick is on you and makes you eat that humble pie on a daily basis, human nature is such that you gloss over those little mistakes," said Mark Schlereth, a starting guard on two Super Bowl champions that threatened undefeated seasons before losing -- Denver (13-0) in 1998 and Washington (11-0) in 1991.

"Even with the most focused teams, those (small mistakes) do creep in there and, at some point become a hindrance to continuing to win," Schlereth said.

Interesting point.

New England, outscoring opponents by an average of more than 21 points a game, has been more dominant to this point than the three other recent teams who challenged the Miami legacy by starting 12-0 or better:

Broncos in 1998

The Broncos were 13-0, and had clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. In their first dozen games, they outscored opponents by an average of 15.8 points. Then they lost, 20-16, to the New York Giants, who were 5-8 at the time. The Broncos lost again a week later, but won the Super Bowl, beating their three postseason opponents by a total of 63 points.

"To be honest, (losing) really brought us down to earth," said Mike Shanahan, the Denver coach. "We got to refocus, and I think it helped us down the stretch."

Chicago in 1985

The Bears, with a dominating defense, reached 12-0 by outscoring opponents an average of 19.3 points a game before losing, 38-24, on a Monday night at Miami, which was 8-4 at the time. Chicago then won its three remaining games and outscored opponents in the playoffs by 91-10 -- an 81-point margin. That was the standard until San Francisco, four years later, won three postseason games by a total of 100 points.

"While you never want to lose a game, you never go in (to a season) with a goal, a realistic goal, of saying you're going to go undefeated. You go in with the goal of winning a Super Bowl. I'd rather have the Super Bowl (than an undefeated season)," said Gary Fencik, a starting safety on Chicago's championship team.

Indianapolis in 2005

The Colts started 13-0, winning by an average of more than 16 points a game, before losing to San Diego. Indy was the 20th team to finish 14-2 or 15-1 since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978, and just the second of the 20 to lose its first playoff game, but the Colts deserve a mulligan; they were emotionally drained after the late-December suicide of coach Tony Dungy's son.

So, can New England do what the other three could not, and make it to the end without a hiccup? Many people believe so, but the road ahead is not easy.

The Patriots figure to have their third difficult test in a row next Sunday against Pittsburgh which, at 9-3, has the third best record in the AFC behind New England and Indianapolis (10-2). If the Patriots get past that one, they have two seemingly easy games in a row against the New York Jets (3-9) and winless Miami (0-12) before finishing the season in a road game against the New York Giants (8-4).

Interestingly, that final game once looked as if it could be significant for the Giants' playoff chances and a difficult hurdle for the Patriots, but New York has established a two-game lead in the NFC wild-card race, and with the prospect of a playoff game a week later, the Giants may choose to rest some of their starters.

Chicago's 1985 team, with its suffocating defense, was in many ways thought of as highly as New England is today. As the Bears prepared for Miami, they had gone three games without allowing a touchdown, had won the two previous weeks by 44-0 and 36-0, and were so sure of themselves they reserved a studio for the morning after the game to tape a little ditty that became known as the Super Bowl Shuffle.

"I'm not sure we were in the best frame of mind going down (to Miami)," Fencik recalled.

The Dolphins, hoping to preserve the legacy of the only undefeated team, had the 1972 players on the sideline that night and the Orange Bowl crowd whipped into a frenzy. Dan Marino, whose knees were much sounder at that early stage of his career, operated flawlessly from a moving pocket that countered the Bears' great pass rushers.

In a television interview this week, former Dolphins coach Don Shula said that game included the best first half of offense his team ever played; which might explain why Bears coach Mike Ditka got into it with defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in the locker room during halftime.

Nonetheless, the next morning, Chicago players still went ahead with their recording session -- but the mood was different when they came back to work.

"It was a shock," Fencik said. "It was embarrassing. We didn't play well defensively, and we were out of position on a couple of key plays.

"(But) I would have rather had that lesson done during the regular season, when it really didn't mean anything other than losing a perfect record, than to somehow go into the postseason not really at a peak, and prepared for any type of potential letdown."

Fencik says he's "not sure all my teammates" felt the same way in retrospect. And they didn't.

Offensive lineman Tom Thayer said Ditka put so much fear into players that he never worried about a letdown during that run at a perfect record.

"I don't think (losing) really helped, because regardless of the win or the loss, we were always very strictly evaluated on Monday morning by Ditka," Thayer said. "There's a lot of similarities in the way New England goes about its business and the way we went about our business.

"I went to Halas Hall every day with the fear of losing my job. That's one thing Ditka instilled in us -- a level you need to compete at, in order to win a championship."

The Bears had gone two decades without a title prior to 1985.

The 1998 Broncos, by contrast, were defending Super Bowl champs.

Also, by 1998 -- as opposed to '85 -- the attention and focus was much brighter on a team chasing Miami's legend. The internet age had started and talk radio was in full voice, too.

Schlereth said he noticed a big difference in just seven years since his 1991 Washington team started 11-0 on the way to a championship -- and says that's one reason losing a regular season game actually brought some relief to the team.

"In '91, the media scrutiny wasn't the same," Schlereth said.

And 1998?

"It becomes a grind, and the one place that is kind of your safe haven, the locker room, becomes a place you want to avoid at times," Schlereth said. "The media is in there and everybody wants to ask you the same questions ... do you think you can go on and go undefeated?

"It's not focused so much on you playing (the next opponent), not what threats do they pose, it's do they pose enough threats to keep you from going undefeated? Can you overcome it and keep your undefeated streak going? Mentally, it wears on you.

"I hated losing when I was 13-0 but, at the same time, I promise you I breathed a sigh of relief, because I didn't have to answer those questions anymore about chasing the '72 Dolphins. It was a relief when we lost -- not that I wanted to lose, but it was one of those, 'I don't have to answer all those questions anymore, let's get back to dotting all our i's and crossing all the t's and get back to winning a championship.'"

Veteran NFL writer Ira Miller is a regular contributor to

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