Three hours later, both teams were disappointed.
|Adam Vinatieri nails the game-winner in overtime for the defending champion Patriots.(AP)|
That gave the Jets the AFC East title and eliminated the Super Bowl champion Patriots and the Dolphins. All were 9-7.
"We're very disappointed," New England coach Bill Belichick said in a statement released by the team. "Unfortunately, it was a situation where other things had to fall into place for us to get into the playoffs."
The Dolphins were less than two minutes from winning the AFC East with a 24-21 lead. But they missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, blowing a 24-13 margin in the final five minutes as Adam Vinatieri kicked a 35-yard field goal 2:03 into overtime.
"This team does not have a killer instinct," Miami linebacker Zach Thomas said. "You can say all you want about how we should have won, but I'm sick and tired of hearing how good we are. We can't win a big game."
After battling each other for more than 60 minutes, the Patriots and Dolphins rooted for the same thing.
They'd both be in the playoffs if the Jets lost, one as a wild-card. Instead, Cleveland, also 9-7, got the wild-card spot.
For the fourth straight season, neither team that went to the previous Super Bowl will return. The Patriots beat St. Louis 20-17 for the last NFL title on Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal on the final play.
On Sunday, his 43-yard field goal tied the game with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter before he won it.
"We might be causing lots of gray hairs out there, myself included, but it's a lot of fun," Vinatieri said.
His joy was short-lived.
The dramatic finish overshadowed another outstanding day by Miami's Ricky Williams, who ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
He ended the season with a league-leading 1,853 yards rushing. That's the eighth-best rushing season in NFL history, one yard more than Walter Payton had in 1977.
"Championships are rare, playoffs are rare, and you need to take advantage of the opportunities," Williams said.
The Patriots won with a comeback reminiscent of last season's unexpected title run by a team that was 5-11 the previous year. On Saturday, Belichick tried to motivate his players by showing them the Super Bowl trophy.
"This is ours, and his point was, 'I'm not ready to give it away,"' quarterback Tom Brady said. "And when that really sinks in, I'm not ready to give it away either."
The Patriots fell behind 24-13 with 4:59 left in the fourth quarter when Miami's Olindo Mare kicked a 28-yard field goal.
Miami mistakes set up the Patriots' next three scores.
New England made it 24-21 on Brady's 3-yard pass to Troy Brown -- helped by a pass interference call -- and a 2-point conversion pass to Christian Fauria with 2:46 left.
The Patriots kicked off deep rather than try an onside kick, then forced a punt by Mark Royals, which traveled only 23 yards. Taking over at Miami's 34-yard line, they moved close enough for Vinatieri's 43-yarder.
"He's the best kicker in the league, so if you want anybody in the league kicking, it's him," Belichick said.
In the Patriots' playoff opener last season, he kicked a 45-yard field goal on the last play of the fourth quarter and a 23-yarder in overtime through driving snow to beat Oakland.
On Sunday, the Patriots got a break in overtime when Mare's kickoff went out of bounds, giving them the ball at their 40.
After an incompletion, Kevin Faulk ran 15 yards then caught Brady's pass for a 20-yard gain to the Miami 25.
With a third-and-9 at the 24, Brady threw a 7-yard pass to Brown, and Vinatieri trotted on. His kick had plenty on it. After it went through the uprights, Miami defensive end Jason Taylor slumped to one knee, and Belichick hugged Brown.
"It's disappointment, shock," Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler said. "I wasn't surprised at the end. I knew they'd be pressuring us."
The Patriots trailed 21-10 at halftime. By then, Williams had 120 yards and both his touchdowns, covering 8 and 14 yards. The Patriots cut the lead to 14-7 on Antowain Smith's 11-yard run with 2:25 left in the half. But Miami needed just 1:09 to get that back on Fiedler's 32-yard TD pass to James McKnight.
Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal on the last play of the half made it 21-10, and he added a 36-yarder early in the third quarter.
Brady completed 25 of 44 passes for 221 yards, while Fiedler was 11-of-25 for 110 yards.
- Brady threw for more than 200 yards for the first time in four games.
- The Dolphins lost their fifth straight road game and went 2-6 away from home.
- Taylor had no sacks, breaking a streak of eight games with at least one. He led the NFL with 18½ sacks.
The Associated Press News Service
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