AFC East: Patriots-Seahawks
The New England Patriots were in a bad place.
The defending conference champs came dangerously close to failing to climb into a first-place tie for a second straight week, but on Sunday they staged a dramatic comeback to beat the ordinarily meek Seattle Seahawks 24-21 at Qwest Field.
Sammy Morris' 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-goal play gave New England its first lead of the afternoon with 2:50 left in the game. Matt Cassel completed a pass to Wes Welker for the two-point conversion, and the Patriots' defense did the rest.
Old friend Deion Branch nearly crippled New England's playoff dreams. He went into the game with 13 catches for 152 yards and zero touchdowns. He had four grabs for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
But it wasn't enough. Cassel completed 26 of 44 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown toss to Benjamin Watson. Welker finished with a dozen catches for 134 yards.
The Patriots will stay out West in preparations for their upcoming game against the Oakland Raiders.
The New England Patriots might be circling the drain in Seattle.
The reigning AFC champs need a victory in a bad way, but they're trailing the Seattle Seahawks 14-3 in the second quarter and are experiencing defensive casualties along the way.
Bruschi left the field under his own power, but was moving slowly. He had been dealing with a knee injury that caused the Patriots to dial Seau's number.
All-everything nose tackle Vince Wilfork suffered a shoulder injury on Seattle's 13-play, 87-yard touchdown drive to start the game.
While the Bills wallow in their playoff futility and are almost certain to stretch their drought to an eighth straight year, the Dolphins are trying to enter the next phase of their turnaround from laughingstocks to AFC East contenders.
The Dolphins, with games remaining against the Bills and Jets, can win the division if they run the table.
Sunday's game also is critical for the Bills, whose playoff hopes are mathematically alive, though their disgusted fans know how remote that possibility is. Even if the Bills finish 10-6, it probably won't be enough. But without a victory over the Dolphins we'll never find out.
Perhaps Losman will be a sparkplug, but he mostly has misfired when given an opportunity the past two seasons. His mobility could help Buffalo against Miami outside linebacker Joey Porter, who ranks second with 14.5 sacks.
Miami will play without left guard Justin Smiley, who was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury last Sunday. Buffalo's defensive line hasn't been a dynamic force, but Smiley's absence is a profound weakness on a shallow offensive line the Dolphins have struggled all year to bolster.
New York came crashing down last Sunday from the ozone layer, where they had been flying after back-to-back road victories over the Patriots and Titans.
The Jets could have taken an imposing lead in the AFC East race but were humbled at home by the beatable Broncos. Now the Jets have to fend off the rest of the division with a tricky final four games.
This weekend's trip will encompass 5,146 miles round trip. They'll host the Bills next week then fly another 4,804 miles round trip to play the Seahawks. There won't be any respite when they return to the Meadowlands for the regular-season finale. They'll meet the Dolphins in what could determine the division title.
San Francisco has earned its laughingstock reputation but has been playing well lately. Even so, the Jets' defense, with something to prove after last week's poor performance, should control running back Frank Gore and the tone of the game.
If the Patriots can't win this game, they don't deserve to return to the playoffs. They need at least a 3-1 record over their final four games based on where they are in the wild-card pecking order and the ease of the Dolphins' schedule.
Seattle looks like a fine place for the Patriots to rejuvenate themselves. The Patriots haven't lost to an NFC West opponent since early 2005, and the Seahawks have been horrible in head coach Mike Holmgren's swan dive season.
Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is in his first real bounce-back situation. After establishing what he's capable of as an NFL starter -- consecutive 400-yard games against the Jets and Dolphins -- he had won of his first outings in last Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Steelers.
The Patriots should tee off on both sides of the ball.
The New England Patriots need a boost.
With only four games left in the regular season, they need to make a run to return to the playoffs. They have won two games in a row only twice all year, and the last time was in October.
To honor Bill Belichick's one-game-at-a-time mantra, here are a couple of trends that should help Patriots Nation relax at least for Sunday, when they visit the Seattle Seahawks.
The Patriots have won 13 straight games against the NFC (in the regular season, of course), tying them for the longest win streak versus the other conference since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
If ever the Patriots needed to break a record, this one is it. They also host the Arizona Cardinals in two weeks.
The last time the Patriots lost a regular-season game to an NFC opponent was Sept. 18, 2005. The Carolina Panthers beat the Patriots 27-17 in Charlotte. That was 58 regular-season games ago.
Another trend working in the Patriots' favor is the Seahawks' five-game losing streak. It's the Seahawks' longest skid in eight years. They haven't dropped six in a row since 1994.