The Patriots had just beaten the Dolphins on a field goal in overtime and needed the already playoff-bound Green Bay Packers to defeat the Jets in New York to get into the playoffs as AFC East champions.
Unfortunately, Brett Favre didn't get the memo that night, and Chad Pennington completed an unbelievable comeback from a 2-5 start to rip the AFC East title from the then-defending Super Bowl champion Patriots.
Six years later, the script was flipped—sort of. The Patriots earlier in the day had defeated the Bills 13-0 to finish the season 11-5. A loss by either the Dolphins or Ravens would give the Patriots a playoff spot or the division title for the sixth consecutive season.
Pennington, once again in New York but this time at the controls of the Dolphins, one-upped Favre to the tune of 200 yards passing and two touchdowns to claim one of the most unlikely division titles in league history. According to Vegas, the Dolphins were 75-1 odds to win the Pro Football Championship and were at 5.5 in over-under win predictions.
The Patriots become only the second team since the 1970 merger (1985 Broncos) to finish at 11-5 and not qualify for the playoffs.
New England now turns to the offseason, something it hasn't done this early since 2002, and the decisions regarding many key players—specifically with quarterback Matt Cassel.
Though Cassel has one year remaining on his current contract, the decision to franchise him could rest on the status of Tom Brady's rehabilitated knee. According to NBCSports.com, Brady is "well behind schedule" after an infection was found due to a buildup of scar tissue, and this current development could hurt his chances for playing in 2009.
Cassel threw for almost 3700 yards and 21 touchdowns in Brady's absence (adding in almost 300 yards rushing), guiding the Patriots to an 11-win season. He has become the number one quarterback target on many team's shopping lists—including the arch-rival New York Jets, who have just fired head coach Eric Mangini and are unsure about the future of Hall of Fame signal-caller Brett Favre, who is scheduled to have an MRI on his shoulder today.
Franchising Cassel could cost the Patriots almost $15 million—but if they are truly concerned about the progress of the three-time Super Bowl champion's knee, then putting the tag on the 26-year-old backup would be the logical decision.
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