Kenyan Drake

Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

How Sunday's stunning loss could have serious playoff ramifications for Patriots

John Tomase
December 09, 2018 - 5:53 pm

As Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal sailed through the uprights in the final seconds on Sunday, the Patriots appeared to be doing it again.

They held a five-point lead in Miami with only a Hail Mary to defend. Meanwhile, their primary competitors for the top two spots in the AFC were both losing – the top-seeded Chiefs to the Ravens, and the 9-3 Texans to the Colts.

After a 1-2 start that had the doomsayers predicting their downfall, the Patriots were on the verge of overtaking the Chiefs for the top spot in the AFC.

Two minutes later, New England’s path to the No. 1 seed – and maybe even a first-round bye – had gone up in the smoke trailing Kenyan Drake on Miami’s shocking game-winning 69-yard hook-and-lateral.

While the Patriots were falling to 9-4, the Chiefs were rallying to beat the Ravens in overtime. At 11-2, Kansas City now owns a two-game lead for homefield advantage with three games to play. The Patriots, meanwhile, remain second in the conference, thanks to Houston’s 24-21 loss, which leaves both teams at 9-4.

The Patriots own tie-breakers against the Chiefs and Texans, thanks to head-to-head wins, but they’ll now need a lot of help over the final three weeks to claim the No. 1 seed.

They must hope Kansas City loses two of its last three (against the Chargers, Seahawks, and Raiders) while the Pats win out. Even then, there’s the possibility the Chargers win out, in which case San Diego would finish 13-3 and claim the top seed.

The Patriots dodged a bullet, however, when the Steelers once again choked on Sunday, this time against the Raiders, surrendering a touchdown in the final minute to lose 24-21. The Patriots visit the 7-5-1 Steelers next weekend and even with a loss will remain a half-game ahead of Mike Tomlin's crew, which has lost three straight. Of course, a loss in Pittsburgh would also open the door for the Texans to take the No. 2 seed by winning out.

That’s a huge swing, from an emotional and practical standpoint, because the Patriots have never reached the Super Bowl under head coach Bill Belichick without securing a bye.