New England Patriots' playoff-bye hopes take beating

By Dan Hanzus
Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 at 01:38 a.m.

The New England Patriots nearly pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history on Sunday night. Instead, they're left wondering how they couldn't finish off a San Francisco 49ers team that seemed ready to faceplant on the soggy Gillette Stadium turf.

A 28-point deficit quickly became a tie but ended as a 41-34 loss for the Patriots, who saw their seven-game winning streak come to a bitter end.

Now 10-4, New England's hopes of securing a first-round playoff bye were dealt a bitter blow. The Denver Broncos -- winners earlier Sunday in Baltimore -- leapfrogged the Patriots as the AFC's No. 2 seed. The Broncos (11-3) will earn a first-round bye if they take care of business against the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs. The Houston Texans pace the conference at 12-2.

We don't envy the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have to host what we imagine will be a ticked-off Patriots team next Sunday. New England closes at home against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17, providing a clear path to 12-4.

That's a record to be proud of, but being on the wrong side of a Sunday night classic could hurt Bill Belichick's team on multiple levels.