Patriots miss playoffs despite 11-5 record
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had television sets on their plane as they flew home from Buffalo, so they were able to watch as their playoff hopes slipped away.
On the bus ride from the airport, they learned the Miami Dolphins had defeated the New York Jets to clinch the AFC East. A year after becoming the first NFL team to go 16-0 in the regular season, the Patriots are missing the playoffs.
Then again, coming this close to making the postseason seemed unlikely back when quarterback Tom Brady was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the opener.
"You look at all the good things that came out of the season, everything we overcame from Week 1 and then losing Rodney (Harrison) and losing Adalius (Thomas) and losing Laurence (Maroney)," fullback Heath Evans said. "I'm proud of this team, proud of this coaching staff. We'd love to keep playing, but you've got to keep your head high."
In nearly any other year, New England's accomplishments would have been enough to reach the postseason. The Patriots are the first NFL team with an 11-5 record to miss the playoffs since Denver in 1985.
They kept their hopes alive with a 13-0 victory Sunday over the Bills. But New England also needed the Dolphins or the Ravens to lose, and both won.
Matt Cassel, who hadn't started since high school, ably filled in for Brady. The Patriots' 2005 seventh-round draft pick out of USC, Cassel spent his four-year college career backing up Carson Palmer and then Matt Leinart.
The Patriots won their last four to stay in the playoff race
"As disappointed as we are that the season is over," coach Bill Belichick said, "I remain very proud of this team."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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