FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The last time the Patriots faced Kurt Warner, they pulled off a shocking Super Bowl upset.
``That's still the one game that I probably think about more than any other,'' Warner said, nearly seven years later.
Now another surprise may be coming: The Patriots could miss the playoffs for the first time in six seasons with Warner playing a key role in ending that streak.
The quarterback who led the high-flying aerial attack of the St. Louis Rams into the 2002 NFL title game - won by the Patriots 20-17 on Adam Vinatieri's last-play field goal - will lead another one against New England on Sunday with the Arizona Cardinals.
He's 38 now, but his other numbers, the ones that measure a quarterback's success, are similar.
linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``He was a great quarterback back then. I think he was MVP of the league, so he could very well be this year.''
The Patriots have been without the reigning MVP, Tom Brady, since he was hurt midway through the first quarter of the first game. Without him and several sidelined key defenders, they are in a rare predicament.
They can become the second team in 23 years to go 11-5 and miss the playoffs. Last season, they were 16-0 and clinched the AFC East for the fifth straight season after just their 11th game.
``A lot of times we've been out in front and kind of just playing for a first-round bye,'' Vrabel said, ``but this is what the NFL's about. There are a lot of teams that don't have a chance, and there's a few that are fighting for a couple of spots. So it gives you reason to come to work.''
The Patriots (9-5) are tied for the AFC East lead with Miami and the New York Jets, but both have the tiebreaker edge. They also trail in the wild-card race.
In the 2002 Super Bowl, Vrabel pressured Warner into throwing a pass that Ty Law intercepted and returned for a 47-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
third on the Cardinals.
Warner ``can see defenses that a lot of folks won't be able to see,'' Patriots linebacker Junior Seau said. ``He has great experience and great knowledge and it always helps when you have a corps of talent around you, and they have it.''
So did St. Louis, where Warner's main targets were Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
``I've been fortunate to play with some great receivers in my career,'' Warner said. ``It never gets old.''
The similarities are obvious to Bill Belichick, who led the Patriots to the 2002 Super Bowl in his second season as their coach.
``All of the skill (position) players were good for St. Louis,'' he said. ``They are good for Arizona.''
The Patriots' pass defense is mediocre.
Safety Rodney Harrison is out for the season. The other safety, James Sanders, could miss his second straight game with an abdomen injury. Rookie Jonathan Wilhite is starting at cornerback after replacing an ineffective Deltha O'Neal. Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas is on injured reserve.
The Cardinals (8-6) already have clinched their first playoff berth since 1998, their first division title since 1975 and their first home playoff game since 1947, when they were based in Chicago.
zone, and 1-3 in their last four games. They also have run a higher percentage of pass plays than any other team, an imbalance that could be costly when the warm-weather team plays in cold and snowy conditions expected Sunday.
``We're still a work in progress,'' Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ``We're learning about ourselves and we know that this week is going to be especially tough going into New England and how NFC teams have not fared well against this team.''
The Cardinals hope to rebound from a 35-14 loss at home to Minnesota. The Patriots returned home after West Coast wins at Seattle and Oakland. They beat the Raiders 49-26 with four touchdown passes from Matt Cassel just six days after his father died.
He doesn't feel added pressure to score a lot, especially early in the game, just because the Cardinals are the NFL's second-highest scoring team.
``We're going to run our offense,'' Cassel said.
That, too, can be very productive with receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss and a running game that gained 277 yards last Sunday.
``I've just got to be totally disciplined'' guarding Moss, Cardinals rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said, ``understanding who I'm going against and not be out there like, ``Wow, I'm going against Randy Moss.' ``
playoff spot would boost the Cardinals heading into the postseason after their regular-season finale against Seattle.
``This is a tremendous measuring stick for us to see where we're at,'' Warner said. ``There's definitely a worry about what these last two games are going to mean to us and how it's going to determine how we play in the playoffs.''
The Patriots, who finish the regular season at Buffalo, have a more immediate goal: simply getting into the postseason.
``Since I've been here, we've always made the playoffs,'' guard Logan Mankins said. ``If we win out, it gives us a good chance. If we lose, we don't have a very good chance.''

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