FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady was a skinny, lightly regarded draft prospect. Bill Belichick had a losing record as a head coach.

Then they joined the New England Patriots in 2000 and made history with three Super Bowl championships.

Now they’re just one win away from another milestone — the most regular-season wins by any coach and quarterback pair since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

What’s the secret?

“I have no idea what it takes. I really don’t,” Brady said. “I think I’m just fortunate to be here for as long as I’ve been here and to play under Coach Belichick.”

That winning combination got its 116th victory last Sunday, beating Dallas 20-16 with a last-minute touchdown. It tied Belichick and Brady with the victory total of Don Shula and Dan Marino of Miami from 1983 to 1995.

But surpassing the Dolphins duo will be delayed at least a week since the Patriots have a bye. It could happen on Oct. 30 at Pittsburgh. The Steelers combo of Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw had the record of 107 wins from 1970 to 1983 before Shula and Marino overtook them.

And Belichick and Brady should go far beyond 117. Neither shows signs of slowing down with Brady ranked second among NFL quarterbacks and Belichick guiding the Patriots to the AFC’s best record at 5-1.

It takes a rare mixture to produce such prolonged success — an outstanding coach and quarterback, excellent communication between the two, and a strong supporting cast of players.

Brady’s talent wasn’t obvious coming out of Michigan.

He wasn’t drafted until the sixth round. And Belichick had losing records in four of his five seasons as Cleveland’s head coach from 1991-95, leaving with a 36-44 mark.

But Brady got his chance when Drew Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding from a torn blood vessel in his chest in the second game of the 2001 season. The next week, Brady won his first pro start, 44-13 over Indianapolis, without throwing a touchdown pass.

Belichick stuck with Brady even when Bledsoe was cleared to play. The relationship has flourished ever since.

“We have spent, through the years, a decent amount of time together on a regular basis,” Belichick said.

“We talk regularly during the week about what’s going to happen, how we’re doing it and then we review what did happen and then we move on to the next stage.

“I think it’s important that both philosophically and from a game management standpoint that the coach and quarterback are on the same page.”

Belichick and Brady have a remarkable .779 regular-season winning percentage (116-33), while Shula and Marino’s was .630 (116-68). But all of them had an intense commitment to work and improve.

Wes Welker has seen that from his coach and quarterback.

“I don’t think there’s been one time when I’ve parked my car here and (Belichick’s) car hasn’t been in his spot,” the NFL leader in catches and yards receiving said. “He’s constantly here trying to help us and make us better.

“And then Tom, he’s Tom and always trying to find a way to do something better, as far as eating,” Welker said with a smile, “more flax seed, or whatever it is.”

That attention to detail underlies Brady’s ability to lead late winning drives. He did that last Sunday, getting the ball with a 16-13 deficit with 2:31 left and throwing a decisive 8-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez with 22 seconds to go.

Was there much doubt that Brady would get his 32nd win, including playoffs, in games in which the Patriots were tied or trailed in the fourth quarter?

“The confidence level that was shown on the sideline was something that I was impressed with,” said right guard Brian Waters, in his first season with the Patriots. “Nobody panicked.”

Welker never worried whether Brady would come through again.

“If you ever sit there and doubt it,” he said, “it’s probably not going to happen.”

That confidence comes from repeated practices of two-minute drills.

When they occur in a game, the Patriots are ready.

And when the communication between the coach and the quarterback is strong, the offense can click at any point in the game.

The other 10 offensive players also must do their assignments for a play to work — and for a coach and quarterback to keep piling up victories.

“It’s the ultimate team sport,” Brady said. “Everyone’s trying to play a part in it, whether it’s the coach or quarterback or the tackle or the long snapper.”

But the coach leads from the sidelines and the quarterback is on the field. By next Sunday night, Belichick-Brady could pass Shula-Marino for the top spot.

“You know how special (the record) is because nobody had done it,” Shula said. “You’re just proud of your accomplishment and, if somebody else does it, then you certainly want to give them credit.”


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