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Sports

How Patriots have squandered championship chances

The 2012 season marked the eighth straight year that the Patriots won at least 10 regular-season games (a feat accomplished by just two other teams in NFL history) and yet failed to win the Super Bowl. It's the first time in NFL history any team has recorded eight straight seasons of 10 or more wins without earning a championship.

After winning three Super Bowls in four seasons from 2001-2004, the Patriots have let multiple opportunities for another crown slip away. A look back at how close the Patriots have come to a fourth Super Bowl title, and where their championship hopes have been dashed:

Year, record
How close they got
Where it went wrong
What they missed out on
2012, 12-4
How close they got
With an offense scoring an eye-popping 34.8 points per game and an improved defense, the Patriots reached the AFC title game for the seventh time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. But they fell victim to uncharacteristic errors in the Ravens AFC title game upset.
Where it went wrong
The Ravens' 28-13 win in Foxborough (their second playoff win there in four seasons) used the Patriots' own game -- creating turnovers -- against them, as Baltimore forced 3 turnovers to New England's one. With Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski injured, the Patriots struggled to convert in red zone opportunities.
What they missed out on
The memories of the three Super Bowl banners won in the Belichick/Brady era retreated further. Another year where the Patriots had the NFL's best offense and one of its greatest quarterbacks passed without championship validation.
2011, 13-3
How close they got
With a high-flying offense and a porous defense, Belichick and Brady reached a fifth Super Bowl together, only to see it end in a bitter but familiar fashion.
Where it went wrong
Just like in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots took a lead into the final two minutes of Super Bowl XLVI. But Eli Manning again led a game-winning drive to deny the Patriots in a 21-17 Giants win.
What they missed out on
Belichick's Patriots squandered yet another opportunity on the Super Bowl stage, and the team fell to 3-2 in the championship game in Belichick's tenure.
2010, 14-2
How close they got
The Patriots, scoring 32.4 points per game, breezed through the regular season in impressive fashion, and included a 45-3 win over the Jets in December that set the stage for the teams' January meeting in Foxborough.
Where it went wrong
For the second straight postseason the Patriots were embarrassed in their own stadium, this time by the rival Jets, motivated by their drubbing a month earlier, clamping down on the New England offense in a 28- 21 divisional playoff win.
What they missed out on
Nothing would have been easy for the Patriots even if they had beaten the Jets, who lost in a gritty AFC title game at Pittsburgh. Aaron Rodgers ended up leading the Packers past the Steelers, 31-25, in a thrilling Super Bowl XLV.
2009, 10-6
How close they got
After winning the AFC East, the Patriots were routed, 33-14, by Baltimore in the wild-card round for their first playoff loss at home since 1978.
Where it went wrong
While this Patriots team had a potent offense and a defense that was statistically (11th-ranked) OK, it lacked chemistry and never seemed strong enough to win meaningful games. Plus, it had a woeful 1-6 record in opponents' stadiums.
What they missed out on
Their inability to win on the road suggested that even if the Patriots had escaped the Ravens, they would have struggled in subsequent road tests against either San Diego or eventual AFC champion Indianapolis.
2008, 11-5
How close they got
Despite losing Tom Brady to injury and still winning 11 games, the Patriots became just the second team in NFL history to win 11 games and miss the playoffs. The Dolphins, also 11-5, won the AFC East on a tiebreaker.
Where it went wrong
The Patriots had too many AFC losses (5), which doomed them when the tiebreaker (conference record) was applied.
What they missed out on
While we can't predict how the Matt Cassel-led Patriots would have fared against AFC playoff foes like Pittsburgh (which beat the Patriots, 33-10, in the regular season) we know they routed Arizona, 47-7, in Week 16 before the Cardinals lost to the Steelers in a thrilling Super Bowl XLIII decided in the final minute.
2007, 16-0
How close they got
The Patriots' bid to become the NFL's first-ever team to record a 19-0 season ended in a stinging 17-14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Where it went wrong
The Patriots led, 14-10, in the final minute of the Super Bowl and seemed poised to complete the perfect season before Eli Manning's miracle pass to David Tyree spurred the Giants' come-from-behind 17-14 win.
What they missed out on
Not only would Tom Brady have cemented his place as one of the greatest ever on the NFL's biggest stage with a 4-0 Super Bowl record, but the Patriots would have joined the 1972 Dolphins as the only perfect teams in league history with a win.
2006, 12-4
How close they got
The Patriots' first-ever loss in six AFC title games was bitter after surrendering a 21-3 lead in the 38-34 defeat at Indianapolis. It marked the first time Peyton Manning beat the Patriots in the playoffs.
Where it went wrong
There were 45 points scored in the second half as Brady and Manning engaged in a shootout. The Patriots had two fourth-quarter leads, but it was the Colts who scored last, and Brady was intercepted to seal the loss.
What they missed out on
The Colts went on to beat the Bears, led by quarterback Rex Grossman, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI. The Patriots likely would have been big favorites in a Super Bowl XX rematch with the Bears.
2005, 10-6
How close they got
The Patriots lost, 27-13, in the divisional playoffs at Denver as the 10-0 start to postseason play for Belichick and Brady in New England fizzled.
Where it went wrong
Brady's invincibility in the playoffs ended amid a hail of mistakes. The Patriots committed five turnovers, and lacked any of the magic that had allowed them to cover up mistakes in Super Bowl runs the previous two seasons.
What they missed out on
The Patriots would have played an AFC title game against Pittsburgh for the third time in five years had they beaten the Broncos. The sixth-seeded Steelers, who eliminated the Broncos and Seahawks by a combined score of 55-27 en route to the Super Bowl XL title, would have been tough to beat.

*Note: Overall, the Patriots have 10 straight seasons of 10 or more wins. They won the Super Bowl after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Only the 1983-98 49ers (16 straight seasons) posted a longer such streak in NFL history.

Text by Sean Leahy

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