December 23, 2012

NFL: For Patriots, it's all about momentum

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Momentum.

That's all the New England Patriots are looking for in the final two weeks of the regular season. They want to win these final two games, today against Jacksonville and at home Dec. 30 against Miami, heading into the playoffs, then they don't care how many games they have to play.

The road to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans most likely took a detour for the New England Patriots after their Sunday night loss to the San Francisco 49ers last week. The loss dropped them to the No. 3 seeding in the AFC, behind Houston and red-hot Denver -- two teams the Patriots have handled easily -- and probably into the Jan. 5-6 wild card round.

But the Patriots, who clinched the AFC East title (and its playoff berth) weeks ago -- aren't thinking about that just yet. Asked if he pays any attention to playoff scenarios, quarterback Tom Brady shook his head.

"Not really," he said. "We're just trying to go out and win. I think that's the most important thing for us to do: Win a game. Whatever happens down the road, happens. In order to accomplish our goal, you have to win every week. We're trying to win every week.

"That's what we're trying to do ... That's the only thing that we're really playing for."

The Patriots are certainly aware of what's at stake. The top two seeds in each conference get an opening-week playoff bye, allowing time for injured players to heal and game plans to be devised. The Patriots held the No. 2 spot before their 41-34 loss to the 49ers, coupled with Denver's win at Baltimore, allowed the streaking Broncos to move ahead.

New England (10-4) can still finish in the top two, though the Patriots would have to win their remaining two and get some help. Houston (12-2) has games with Minnesota (home) and Indianapolis (away) and, while unlikely, would have to lose both. Denver (13-3, winners of nine in row since a 31-21 loss at New England on Oct. 7), faces Cleveland and Kansas City, both at home. The Broncos would have to lose one for the Patriots to have a chance to move up.

Not that it seems to matter.

Teams that play in the wild card round, while forced to play an extra game, have fared quite well in recent years. Five of the last seven Super Bowl champions -- Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Green Bay and the New York Giants (twice) -- have played in the wild card round, the exceptions being Pittsburgh (2008) and New Orleans (2009). Baltimore also won the 2000 Super Bowl after advancing through the wild card round.

Each of those teams got hot once the playoffs began and built momentum heading into the Super Bowl.

Since that 2000 season, there have only been four Super Bowls that have not featured a wild card round team, with Arizona and Carolina also advancing to the championship game before losing.

The Patriots, who have played in the wild card round eight times since 1976, also advanced to the 1985 Super Bowl through the wild card round.

So the Patriots focus right now isn't about where they finish in the standings, but how they enter the playoffs. While this game has no playoff implications -- the Jaguars are 2-12 -- Bill Belichick wants his players performing at a high level.

"It's a big game for us, but not a playoff game," said Belichick. "I think the most important thing for a team is to be playing well for the most important games of the season. They're ahead for all of us so hopefully we'll be able to do that when the time comes."

(Continued on page 2)

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