Patriots Get The Most Out Of Day Off

Bob George
December 31, 2001 at 8:40 pm ET

It’s beginning to look a lot like…you need to head for your nearest telescope.

This has to be something cosmic. Check the planets for alignment. Check for supernovas, asteroids or the aurora borealis. You might also want to see if some black hole up there was hovering over East Rutherford, N.J. or Denver, Colorado. There had to be one over Cincinnati, Ohio and San Diego, California.

All the while the Jets, Ravens and Raiders were out there bludgeoning their playoff positions this weekend, there sat the fat and happy Patriots at home, watching with glee as every scenario that could possibly benefit them happened this weekend. Given the Patriots’ lousy history of “needing help”, that is why the only explanation that anyone might offer for what all happened this weekend can best be described as “supernatural”.

Now, watch the Patriots gag one up at Charlotte a week from today. Nobody in Patriot Nation wants to even think of such a possibility.

The next foe of the Patriots lost at home today to Arizona, 30-7. The Patriots, with all the proper wheels spinning and playoff pieces falling into place, are looking at a forlorn 1-14 Carolina team next week at Ericsson Stadium, with a division title waiting for them if they win, and a first round bye if their hated rivals also win. As John Madden once said, “This is as good as it gets. It doesn’t get any better than this!”

The trouble is that Madden was referring to the Giants winning Super Bowl XXI, with former Patriot coach Bill Parcells getting doused with Gatorade. But for right now, things couldn’t be better for the Patriots.

Steeler Nation is whooping it up tonight, also. Despite losing a shocker in overtime at Cincinnati, 26-23, Pittsburgh locked up home field throughout the playoffs thanks to Oakland losing at Denver, 23-17. The road to the Super Bowl has to go through Ketchup Field, like most everyone assumed it would do.

That Raider loss also helped the Patriots, but nothing like the big favor the Bills paid the Patriots earlier on Sunday.

The Bills played like a 2-12 team, and still managed to knock off the Jets at Exit 16-W, 14-9. One has to wonder what demonic force overcame the Jets today, as Vinny Testaverde threw for 235 yards and Curtis Martin rushed for 115 yards. Testaverde suffered two interceptions, one by Phil Hansen late in the contest that nearly sealed the deal.

The backbreaker for the Jets was on the game’s final play. With time running out and the Jets out of time outs, Testaverde curiously threw over the middle to Martin for seven yards. He was stopped at the 17, but the clock was still running with seven seconds left. Testaverde didn’t even have time to spike the ball. As the clock ticked to zero, he let fly a desperation heave into the end zone.

Buffalo thought the game was over and didn’t defend the play. But Testaverde’s toss flew out of the end zone, and the game was over. The Jets suffered a devastating home loss to a 3-12 team, and Patriot Nation screamed in shock and delight.

The Jet loss means that next weekend’s game at Carolina can give the Patriots the division title. The Raider loss means that with a Patriot win, the Patriots get the second seed if the Raiders fall to the Jets next weekend at Oakland. And if the Raiders beat the Jets and Seattle wins, the Jets are out of the playoffs and Seattle is in.

Seattle stayed alive with a wild 25-22 win at San Diego. Steve Christie kicked a 36-yard field goal with 22 seconds left to tie the game, but Charlie Rogers returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to set up a game-winning 54-yard field goal by Rian Lindell. The Seahawks are still alive, while both the Jets and Ravens (Baltimore’s 22-10 loss Saturday night at Tampa looms even larger today) are still on the outside looking in.

Okay, let’s begin to untangle this mess. Who gets what based on what? Let’s find out.

New England has clinched a playoff berth. New England wins the division with a win or losses by both Miami and the Jets. New England clinches a first-round bye with a win and an Oakland loss.

Miami has clinched a playoff berth. Miami wins the division and a first-round bye with a win and a New England loss (Miami wins a tie with Oakland at 11-5).

The Jets clinch a playoff berth with a win or a loss by Seattle. The Jets win the division and a first-round bye with a win and losses by Miami and New England.

Pittsburgh has clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Baltimore can clinch a playoff berth with a win or a Seattle loss, or a Seattle win by less than 44 points over Kansas City.

Oakland has clinched the AFC West. Oakland clinches a first-round bye with a win. Seattle clinches a playoff spot with a win and a Jet loss, or a win by more than 44 points over Kansas City plus a Baltimore loss.

Seattle wins a tiebreaker with the Jets on conference record. As for Baltimore, Seattle and the Ravens lack the required number of common opponents (minimum of four, they have only three), so the tiebreaker goes to net points in the conference if both clubs wind up 9-7. The Seahawks do get the Chiefs at home, but a 44-point margin is not real likely. Despite a 7-4 conference record, the Seahawks are a minus–12 net conference points thanks to lopsided losses at Oakland, Kansas City and Denver.

Here is a synopsis of all games affecting the playoffs next weekend, excluding the Patriots-Panthers game.

Buffalo at Miami: The Dolphins barely squeaked by Atlanta on Sunday at home, 21-14, thanks to some very questionable replay calls/non-calls. The Falcons can rightfully claim that they were jobbed in this loss. The Dolphins cannot be a lock at home thanks to this. Toss in the fact that Buffalo has to be super buoyant thanks to Sunday’s road win at the Meadowlands, and you cannot make Miami a huge favorite here. Expect Buffalo to play still another tough game, and with as much to play for next week as this week, you cannot rule out a Buffalo upset win.

Jets at Oakland: Whom you root for here depends upon the Patriots. If the Patriots win, root against Oakland (Patriot Protocol 101: you cannot root for the Jets, you have to root against the Raiders) for the two seed. If the Patriots lose, root for Oakland and for Seattle. That perfecta would knock the Jets out of the playoffs. As for this game, the Jets are a much better road team than home team. The Raiders had a great game from Rich Gannon against Denver, but failed to make the key big plays that they needed to. The Jets may be too star-crossed to win this game, and Oakland will be at home. The Raiders get the nod here.

Minnesota at Baltimore: Sorry, Seahawks. You can win by 74 points and it won’t matter. At home against a downtrodden Vikings team, Baltimore should have this game in their hip pocket. Only a bunch of injuries to people like Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, yaddayaddayadda, could derail the Ravens. Seattle’s only hope is to win and root for Oakland.

Kansas City at Seattle: The Hawks should finish with a flourish. But they won’t win by a margin great enough to make Baltimore sweat. Look for the Chiefs to play tough and for Seattle to win a close one.

The only two games that matter to the Patriots is their own and the Jets-Oakland game. Since theirs is an early game and the other is late, they can focus totally on the Panthers and defeat a team they should handle easily. It is up to Bill Belichick to get his team to believe that Carolina is 14-1 and his team needs to win to just get in.

Belichick knows this full well, and is obsessed with Carolina right now. The Patriots need to look off staleness due to inactivity, and complacency due to a cupcake opponent on paper and division supremacy now in their hands. The Panthers might lay down like they did Sunday against an up and coming Cardinal squad, but don’t expect it.

Right now, the seeds are in place, pardon the pun. A win gives the Patriots the division. A Raider loss then gives the Patriots another week off.

And if all that happens? Check the skies to see if there is a new constellation that bears resemblance to Elvis Patriot. If you find one, go crazy.

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