Linebacker Elandon Roberts (52) and the New England Patriots defense are close to setting an NFL record for fewest third-down conversions allowed in a season. AP Photo/Adam Hunger

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are on the precipice of history.

Their next step could land them among the NFL’s all-time great defenses. It should at least place them in the franchise’s record books. Football immortality is that close.

And they could care less.

“It’s wonderful, but we just want to win the rest of these games,” said Pats defensive tackle Adam Butler. “That’s the only focus.”

Here are the records at stake for the Patriots, who have been regarded as the league’s gold defensive standard since late September.

If the Patriots hold Miami to fewer than seven third-down conversions in Sunday’s regular-season finale, they will own the NFL record for fewest allowed in a season. Opponents have converted just 42 this season at a 23 percent clip. Opposing quarterbacks would have been better off flipping two coins and calling them both correctly in the air than taking a third-down snap.

If the Dolphins score 38 or fewer points, the Patriots will have reset the franchise record for points allowed in a season. By shutting out Miami again – they demolished them 43-0 back in Week 2 – the Patriots will become the eighth team to allow fewer than 200 points in a 16-game season. Four of the previous seven won the Super Bowl.

And should the Pats maintain their league leads in total yards and points allowed through the weekend, they will finish with the NFL’s top-ranked defense in those categories for the first time ever.

Playing within an era of all-time offense, this defense’s record rise is proof positive resistance is possible. It’s been like fighting gravity – and winning.

But fourth-year linebacker and captain Elandon Roberts insists the Patriots’ only fight is with Miami; then with their playoff opponents, then living with the results of those battles. And the final result, Roberts says, will entirely color how he views the defense’s journey to date, history or not.

“Once it’s said and done, sometimes you look back and you’re like, ‘Wow, man. We did all this.’ But you only really look back on that and know what you did as a defense if that outcome at the end comes how you want it to come,” Roberts said. “You still appreciate what you did, but you don’t look back on it if you don’t accomplish what you wanted to accomplish.”

Roberts cited last season and his rookie year of 2016 as examples. The Patriots led the league in points allowed in 2016, a fact he may not have known had the team not triumphed in the Super Bowl the following February. Their defense had largely been at fault for the famous 28-3 deficit, allowing the Falcons to knife through their soft, buttery front and secondary for three quarters.

Of course, the defense eventually hardened, Tom Brady threw on his Superman cape and the rest is NFL history. The only kind of history that matters to Roberts.

“That’s what’s so good about this locker room is there’s a lot of older guys and experienced guys that’s telling you what you need to do to win,” Roberts said. “They look at the big picture, what we want to do as a team.”

Roberts would prefer not to dwell on the 2017 season. The Pats’ defeat in Super Bowl LII is what eats at him, not their disastrous defensive performances and terrible statistical rankings during the regular season. Though, Roberts confessed, stats can be a point of pride.

“You want them. But you don’t get stuck on them,” he said. “They don’t define your defense.”

So what does then, if not history or numbers?

“It’s about how guys jell,” Roberts said. “It’s a lot of camaraderie, a lot of trust. If you don’t trust in the guy next to you, it’s hard (to win). And I feel like this year on defense, it was a lot of trust and communication and it just built.”

Ever since the Pats edged the Rams 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII, their latest title has been explained by veteran experience and cohesion. The Patriots executed arguably the finest defensive performance in Super Bowl history because they were older, wiser and more versatile. Having returned nine starters and several key backups, those same elements drove dreams of defensive dominance in the preseason.

Then the Pats hit the field and added a new twist: scoring.

Five touchdowns later, if the defense scores again against Miami, it will tie the franchise record for most defensive touchdowns in a season. Brady, Julian Edelman and Sony Michel are the only Patriots who have scored more than their defense. More history for the taking.

But again the cogs of the Pats’ defensive machine dismiss it, turning only for the purpose of victory.

“Yeah personally, but I don’t think that matters,” Butler said. “What matters to me is just helping my team win, just doing my job.”

So on they march, toward the Dolphins with an eye on Miami, the site of Super Bowl LIV, where the story of one of the greatest defensive seasons in Patriots history will be soon celebrated, silenced or long forgotten.

Comments are not available on this story.