Rare wild-card game a blow to Patriots' Super Bowl hopes

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots find themselves in unfamiliar territory playing in the wild-card round of the playoffs Saturday against the Tennessee Titans (8:15 p.m. ET, CBS).

That is a compliment that reflects how high the bar has been raised under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, and also a reflection of how their 27-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Sunday's season finale has put the Patriots' hopes for a seventh Lombardi Trophy in peril.

The Patriots haven't played a wild-card game since the 2009 season, when they were blown out by the Baltimore Ravens at home 33-14. Prior to the 2019 season, they had been one of three teams from 2010 to '18 that had not played a wild-card game, along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (last playoff appearance was 2007) and Cleveland Browns (last playoff appearance was 2002).

"No one feels sorry for the Patriots not getting a first-round bye in the playoffs," veteran safety and captain Devin McCourty said. "It is what it is. We talk about it each year, each team has their own journey and this is our journey to go out there next week, wild-card weekend, and have an opportunity to continue to play."

In recent years, that opportunity has been short-lived. No team playing on wild-card weekend has advanced to the Super Bowl since the Ravens did so in 2012.

Since 2001, the Patriots are 3-3 in the postseason when they don't have a bye, never advancing to the Super Bowl.

With the bye over that span, they are 27-7, with nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships.

"We're still in the playoffs and everything we want is still in front of us. I don't think it is any more difficult," Patriots' sixth-year running back James White said. "It's one extra game if you make it to where you want to be."

In addition to 2009, the only other years the Patriots have played a wild-card round game under Belichick and Brady were 2005 and 2006.

They beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-3 at home following the 2005 regular season, breaking away after a scoreless first quarter. Linebacker Mike Vrabel led the team with nine tackles. Vrabel, of course, is the Titans' coach.

The following season, the Patriots beat the New York Jets at home 37-16, pulling away late in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Asante Samuel's 36-yard interception return for a touchdown provided an exclamation point.

This season, Sunday's shocking result created immediate urgency, as coaches were already in the office late Sunday night preparing for the Titans.

"Certainly it is a different situation, but it is important to have proper perspective," Patriots longtime captain Matthew Slater said. "We have been very blessed to have the type of season we have and being in the playoffs. A lot of teams don't get that opportunity. Would it have been nice to have the bye? [Yes]. But now we don't have one.

"We have to do everything in our power to recover and prepare and be excited about our opportunity. Let's not mope around and feel sorry for ourselves. We are in the playoffs. Our team has worked hard, and we should be appreciative of where we are."