FOXBOROUGH, MA. - It began back in 2001, the first year coach Bill Belichick and his on-field commander-in-chief, Tom Brady, began to take charge of the NFL.
And it included a player personnel move that to this day has long-suffering Buffalo Bills supporters shaking their heads.
The favoured running back that season, the Patriots first of three Super Bowl wins and five trips to the big game, was Antowain Smith, who the previous year had been an average runner of the football at best in Western New York.
As a first-year Patriot, Smith dashed for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns that season, almost triple in both categories of his final year as a Bill. And he finished it with a championship ring on his finger, adding another two years later.
Since then, perhaps more so than any NFL team, the Patriots have used a changing cast of ball carriers to complement the Brady-led offence. Understanding that the punishing nature of the position requires there will be frequent turnover, it is