Despite Win, Patriots Still Trail Rivals

The Patriots rolled over the Oakland Raiders 49 - 26 to boost their standings overall. unfortunately the win didn't get them any closer to the division title because Buffalo blew a late lead to give New York a reprieve. Also, the Dolphins were able to down the struggling 49ers.

The New England Patriots (9-5) did exactly what they needed to do by dispatching the lowly Oakland Raiders, 49-26, to keep themselves in a three-way tie atop the AFC East with the New York Jets (9-5) and Miami (9-5). The win, coupled with Baltimore's loss to Pittsburgh, also gave the Ravens, Patriots, Dolphins and Jets identical records, causing a logjam for the second wild-card position. Indianapolis (10-4) tightened its grip on the first wild-card spot by beating Detroit.

Safe to say, New England will turn into Dallas fans next week, as Baltimore visits the Cowboys in a Saturday night game that will have major playoff implications for both conferences. Because Baltimore has a stronger conference record, the Patriots need the Ravens to lose one more time if they want to entertain wild-card aspirations.

In terms of the division title, Sunday didn't do anything to help New England. Both the Jets and Miami were able to grind out victories despite challenges from Buffalo and San Francisco, respectively. The Jets victory was particularly painful, as New York trailed Buffalo 27-24 with little more than two minutes remaining. On second-and-5 with 2:06 left, the Bills inexplicably called a pass play. As he rolled to his right, Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman was stripped by Abram Elam, and New York defensive end Shaun Ellis scooped up the ball and ran 11 yards for the game-winning touchdown, as the Jets went up 31-27 with 1:54 to go.

The rally by the Jets was a crushing blow for New England's division title hopes. To win the AFC East, the Patriots need both the Jets and Miami to lose one more game, as either New York or the Dolphins can win the division by winning its final two games. Because New York and Miami play in the final week of the season, one of the teams has to lose that game. As it takes on the NFC West champion Arizona next week, New England will be rooting for some underdogs, as the Jets play at Seattle and Miami travels to Kansas City.

"We always feel like we have to win," New England head coach Bill Belichick said. "We know we are in a tight race in the AFC East. Miami and Buffalo both won today, and we know every game is important this time of year. It's good to be playing in these kind of games. We know they are big."

"Clearly the responsibility for the last call, the play-action pass, that was mine. That goes right on me. It backfired clearly and caused us to lose the game." -- Buffalo head coach Dick Jauron told reporters after the Bills' 31-27 loss to the Jets. The Buffalo loss could prevent New England from catching either the Jets or Miami for the AFC East title.

Notes:

--With his fourth catch of the game, Wes Welker became the eighth player in NFL history with back-to-back 100-catch seasons. Welker finished the game with six catches, and now has 102 for the year. The last player to post back-to-back 100-catch seasons was current teammate Randy Moss, who did it in 2002-03 while with Minnesota.
--KR Ellis Hobbs recorded the third kickoff return for a touchdown of his career with a 95-yard return in the second quarter. He is tied with Raymond Clayborn for the most kick returns for a touchdown in franchise history. Hobbs also has 1,266 kick return yards this season, a team record.
--Jonathan Wilhite recorded his first career interception late in the second quarter. It was just the 13th pick of the season for New England, which had 19 interceptions last season.
--Playing with a heavy heart following the death of his father earlier in the week, QB Matt Cassel tossed a career-high four touchdown passes, including two for WR Randy Moss. Cassel now has 18 touchdown passes on the season.
-- New England's point total (49) was its highest of the season and marked the third time this season the Patriots have scored at least 40 points in a game this year. It was the most points in a game for New England since a 56-10 win over Buffalo in Week 11 last season.

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