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Monday, December 29, 2008

And that's a wrap: the 11-5 Patriots sit out January

I promise not to whine, too much. The New England Patriots finished 11-5 with their 13-0 shutout of the Bills yesterday and yet they didn't advance to the playoffs. They are the first team since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams to miss out with 11 wins.

Since the loss to the Steelers, the Patriots' playoff fate was partially out of their hands. They won their last four games (and were playing their best football of the season) but they still needed the Ravens to lose to the Jaguars or the Jets to beat the Dolphins. As expected, neither scenario came through.

I could go on (and on and on) about how pathetic Brett Favre is (retire already) or that Eric Mangini is a terrible coach (he was fired this morning) but I'll leave that to everyone else in New England. This was the first season in a while that the AFC East was competitive and the fact that the AFC West and NFC West were terrible is irrelevant. Division strength is cyclical in football and there were two losses you can point to (Colts, Jets) that if the Pats had pulled out, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

For the third week in a row, the Patriots had to play in ridiculous weather. They won in the pouring rain in Oakland. They dominated in a snowstorm last weekend at Gillette against the disinterested Cardinals and finally yesterday they won in god-forsaken Upstate New York where the winds were 30-40 m.p.h with gusts up to 50.

In likely his last game for New England, Matt Cassel only attempted eight passes but he still was outstanding and showed just how far he's come since September. He finished 6 of 8 for 78 yards with 19 yards rushing on three attempts (including two fourth-down conversions).

I've never seen a game where it mattered so much if you had the wind at your back. Stephen Gostkowski made a 33-yard kick in the first quarter and the Patriots led 3-0 at the half.

The Bills' miserable end to the season was best summed up by their last possession of the second quarter. With time running out (and no timeouts left), they ran the ball in the Patriots' red zone then took too much time to get back to the line before the clock showed zeros. Dick Jauron is from Swampscott, two towns over from my hometown, but he's clearly over his head.

Sammy Morris (20 carries, 84 yards) and LaMont Jordan (20 carries, 64 yards) continued their fine late-season play. If they could both stay healthy consistently (a huge if), I'd much rather prefer them over the more talented but enigmatic Laurence Maroney.

Jordan plunged in from two-yards out in the third quarter. It turned out to be the game's only touchdown as the inept Bills couldn't get out of their own way.

Marshawn Lynch sat out but backup running back Fred Jackson (27 carries, 136 yards) was great.

Gostkowski added a 23-yard kick in the fourth. He had a solid day even though he missed a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter and almost missed an extra point. The missed field goal was right down the middle then the wind hooked it wide right. During the extra point, the wind almost completely knocked it down as it barely went over the crossbar.

You're only kidding yourself if you think the Patriots would have won the Super Bowl this season with all their injuries and obvious flaws but with the way they'd been playing over the last month, it would have been interesting to see what Cassel would have done in the playoffs. Especially if they won the AFC East and hosted a home game or two.

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