BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots controlled their own destiny heading into Sunday night’s matchup against the 49ers, but beating the NFL’s best defense proved too tall a task as they lost at home 41-34.
The loss could prove very costly at season’s end, as it dropped the Patriots out of the No. 2 seed in the AFC and therefore out of position to earn a first-round playoff bye.
The Broncos won convincingly earlier on Sunday 34-17 over the Ravens. The win improved the Broncos’ record to 11-3.
A Patriots win on Sunday night would have led to a tie for the No. 2 seed, with the Patriots owning the tiebreaker by beating Denver head-to-head earlier in the year.
However, the loss drops the Pats’ record to 10-4, one game behind Denver and one game ahead of fourth-place Baltimore.
The Patriots’ hopes for a bye are still alive, if slim. They need to win their final two games — at Jacksonville and home against the Dolphins — which shouldn’t be too much of a problem. They also need help, though, with a Broncos loss. That is unlikely, though, as they too face an easy remaining schedule, with home games against the 5-9 Browns and 2-12 Chiefs left to play.
The Texans, still leading the AFC with a 12-2 record, need just one win against Minnesota or at Indianapolis to clinch a first-round bye. If the Texans were to lose both of those, the Patriots would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
There’s plenty that still needs to be sorted out over the final week or two, but as the standings sit now, the Patriots would host the Cincinnati Bengals on wild-card weekend, with a trip to Denver likely awaiting the winner.