John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that the Patriots finished the regular season with a 10-6 record yesterday by taking the bye they failed to earn conventionally, resting starters in a 28-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins that secured the fourth seed in the AFC and a visit from Jacksonville on Saturday night (8 p.m., Ch. 5) in the first round of the playoffs. The Patriots lifted most of their starters early in the second quarter, turning the game over to the likes of quarterback Matt Cassel, wide receiver/cornerback Bam Childress, and the drop-kicking Flutie. The subs nearly delivered. Trailing 28-20 in the waning seconds, Cassel (11-of-20, 168 yards, 2 TDs) found Ben Watson for a 9-yard touchdown on the last play of regulation. The Pats went for two and overtime, but Cassel's pass toward an open Childress sailed out of bounds. "We play to win," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "I mean, 11-5 looks way better than 10-6, doesn't it? Anybody who says we didn't play to win is a knucklehead. They don't know the New England Patriots."
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes writes that Tom Brady and Richard Seymour played one quarter and were gone. Corey Dillon never saw the field. Most other key starters were huddled on the bench well before halftime. Matt Cassel instead of Doug Flutie? Practice squad receiver Bam Childress at cornerback? A drop kick in the fourth quarter of a close game? Brilliant! The result was a 28-26 loss to Miami. Instead of winning, the Pats stayed healthy, got some rest and in Jacksonville, wound up with the preferred first-round opponent for Saturday night.
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe writes that with 6:10 remaining in yesterday's game, Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie made the first successful drop kick in the NFL since 1941. "It sure screwed me up, I couldn't figure out what they were doing. I had to use a timeout [before the attempt]," said Dolphins coach Nick Saban. "I'm kind of pleased to hear that somebody can still drop kick. Flutie showed his age  on that one."
Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe writes that in a game that determined only which opponent would be riding into Foxborough Saturday night, Matt Cassel didn't perform too badly. Especially for a quarterback whose last touchdown pass came in his senior year at Chatsworth (Calif.) High School. ''It's nice to see you guys over here," Cassel said to the assembled media after the Patriots' 28-26 loss to the Dolphins yesterday at Gillette Stadium. Overall, Cassel was 11 of 20 passes for 168 yards, and two touchdowns, with a passer rating of 116.2.
Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe offers a story on Patriots rookie wide receiver/defensive back Bam Childress. Childress served as the equivalent to the 34-year-old Brown. Childress, who was informed Friday that he would be signed for the showdown against the Dolphins, played in his first NFL game and caught three passes for 32 yards. But Childress's offensive production comprised only part of his day, as he played in the secondary and made four tackles, and rounded out his debut with some special teams action. ''That was probably one of the best days of my life, just knowing that I'd be playing with the team," Childress said of the day he was told he'd be in the lineup.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that on the 20th anniversary of its improbable run to Super Bowl XX, the team was honored before yesterday's game against the Dolphins. "While things are happening, you don't have the advantage of reflection," coach Raymond Berry said. "From a position of 20 years later, it's gotten clearer and clearer how fortunate I was to be here when I was." Fifty players and coaches were on hand, including standouts like quarterback Steve Grogan, cornerback Raymond Clayborn, safety Fred Marion, wide receiver Stanley Morgan, and many others. "It's great to see everyone," Morgan said. "That was such a memorable season. The way we showed heart and came back at the end of the season. When that season started, who would have thought we'd do what we did. We weren't playing that well, and all of the sudden things picked up."
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe writes that in a season in which the Patriots suited up an eye-popping 45 starters, eight players (non-kickers) went the distance, starting all 16 games. ''Besides winning games, that's kind of more important to me than anything -- showing up and playing every week," said quarterback Tom Brady, who after yesterday's season finale against the Dolphins has started 87 consecutive contests (playoffs included). ''That's hard to do. You take a lot of hits. To practice every day and get out there and perform each week, it says a lot about the character and toughness of those guys." Brady is one of just three offensive players to start the full 16. Guards Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal are the others. Defensively, linebackers Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, safety Eugene Wilson, and linemen Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork started every contest.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that linebacker Matt Chatham had one of his best days as a Patriot finishing the day with eight tackles and a sack. A special teams standout since 2000, Chatham spent yesterday at middle linebacker. He's typically an outside linebacker. In addition to his sack, he also defensed a pass. "It's kind of like you need a reminder to keep going," Chatham said. "You get put in a role — and I'm very gracious to have that role — but you're stuck in there a bit. You need that personal pick-me-up that you can do other things."
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his analysis of the Patriots 28-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.