|Patriots may be rooting for rival Jets in finale|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 26 December 2008 13:47|
New England's chances of making the playoffs could depend on a win by their longtime rivals over Miami.
But the Patriots avoid talk about it like quarterbacks try to sidestep sacks. If they lose at Buffalo, no other games will matter; the three-time Super Bowl champions would miss the postseason for the first time in six years.
``There are a lot of scenarios that need to happen for us to get in the playoffs,'' running back Sammy Morris said, ``but they're all irrelevant if we lose.''
The Patriots (10-5) would win the AFC East and play their first playoff game at home if they and New York (9-6) win. They would earn a wild-card berth over Baltimore (10-5) if they and the Dolphins win and the Ravens lose to Jacksonville. In that case, Miami (10-5) would win the AFC East.
ore would eliminate the Patriots, no matter what they do.
Both the New York and Baltimore games are scheduled to start 3 hours, 15 minutes after New England's game begins at Buffalo.
``Once our game is over, then you can start worrying about that stuff,'' NFL receptions leader Wes Welker said, ``but for right now, we're just concentrating on Buffalo.''
The Patriots might not even stick around Buffalo to watch the Jets-Dolphins game on television.
``We'll probably be on a plane home and we'll worry about it when we land,'' offensive lineman Russ Hochstein said.
The animosity between the teams began more than a decade ago.
Bill Parcells left as coach of New England after its Super Bowl loss to Green Bay to coach the Jets in 1997. Bill Belichick was named to succeed Parcells with the Jets on Jan. 3, 2000, but resigned a day later and became coach of the Patriots on Jan. 27 that year.
Eric Mangini left after just one year as Belichick's defensive coordinator to take over the Jets in 2006, a move that upset Belichick and led to frosty postgame handshakes between the two.
Early in the 2006 season, the Patriots filed a tampering complaint with the NFL over the Jets' pursuit of a trade for Deion Branch, whom New England sent to Seattle.
The next year, Mangini reported Belichick to the NFL for videotaping defensive signals in the season opener between the teams. Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was fined $250,000 and lost a first-round draft pick.
But there is little evidence that any current Patriots players harbor a grudge. Besides, there is too much at stake and nothing they can do about the Jets-Dolphins game.
``Whatever's best for the Patriots, I'm going to go with that route,'' quarterback Matt Cassel said.
Players are spouting Belichick's party line - focus only on preparing to win their game and don't let any distractions interfere.
But they understand this: they may be rooting for the Jets to save them.
``I'm sure they do that quite a bit secretly, really, really deep down,'' Mangini said with a smile. ``They just hide it well.''
The Dolphins knows the Patriots' cheerleading won't affect the outcome of their game.
``That's fine. We've been the underdogs most of the season,'' Miami running back Ronnie Brown said. ``I think a lot of guys like it that way.''
The Patriots beat the Jets 19-10 one week after Brady's season-ending knee injury. It was Cassel's first start since 2000 when he was a high school senior.
``Going down to the Jets, I earned a little bit of respect (from teammates) because it was my first start and we were able to go to a tough place and win,'' Cassel said, ``but earning respect's a continuous process.''
In the second game between the teams, the Patriots suffered a critical loss, 34-31 when they couldn't stop the Jets on the only series of overtime, lasting 7:50.
Since then, the Patriots are 4-1 and are favored by about a touchdown over the Bills. The Jets are 1-3 in their last four but are slight favorites at home against a Dolphins team on an 8-1 roll.
``We're not in a rooter mode right now,'' Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``We've got plenty to worry about with Buffalo.''
Some players will admit that the thought of the Patriots rooting for the Jets is strange.
``That's crazy,'' said Jets right tackle Damien Woody, a former Patriot. ``I heard that scenario and I don't even want to think about it, man, because it's just too wacky.''
It could get even wackier. If the Patriots win the AFC East for the sixth straight year and the Jets get the wild card, they'd meet in a first-round playoff game in Foxborough.
``We can talk about whatever happens at the end of the season after that occurs, if it occurs,'' Belichick said, ``but right now that's not really anything that we're focused on.''
AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr., in New York, and Steve Wine, in Miami, contributed to this report.