By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots have won 11 straight AFC East crowns. They’ve actually won 17 of the last 19 AFC East titles, and no divisional opponent has finished a season with more wins than New England since the year 2000. (The losses of the division title in 2002 and 2008 both came via tiebreakers.)
Alas, that stretch is now officially a part of history.
The Bills made sure of that Sunday night, when they beat the Steelers to improve to 10-3 on the season. With the Patriots at 6-7, it became mathematically impossible for the Patriots to climb their way back to first place this season.
The division crown will now belong either to the Bills (10-3) or Dolphins (8-5) in 2020. If Miami passes Buffalo, it’ll be Miami’s first division title since 2008. If Buffalo hangs on to win the division crown, it’ll be the Bills’ first division title since … 1995. They’ve had eight last-place finishes and exactly zero playoff wins since that season.
Regardless of who wins, the fact remains that the Patriots haven’t finished a season outside of the top spot in the AFC East since that 2008 season, when Matt Cassel took over for an injured Tom Brady in Week 1 and helped the Patriots to an 11-5 record. They’re one of just two teams in history to win 11 games without making the postseason, as Miami owned the tiebreaker that season.
The SportsCenter Twitter account pointed out some notes from the Patriots’ 11-year run atop the AFC East.
For the first time since 2008, the Patriots won't win the AFC East.
What a run it was for Bill Belichick and company 👏 pic.twitter.com/XrRjmNl7Aa
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 14, 2020
Some more tidbits to add to that list:
–The Bills have had seven head coaches (two were on an interim basis), and the Jets have had three head coaches (and will likely soon have a fourth). Rex Ryan’s entire tenure with the Jets (2009-14) and Bills (2015-16) took place in that span.
–Tom Brady started 185 regular-season games and 24 playoff games from 2009-19. Mark Sanchez started the most games for the Jets during that span, with 62 regular-season games and six playoff games. Ryan Tannehill started 88 regular-season games for Miami, and Ryan Fitzpatrick started the most games at QB for Buffalo, with 55.
–Speaking of Fitzpatrick, he started 53 games for the Bills, 27 games for the Jets, and 13 games for the Dolphins from 2009-19. His teams went 3-10 in his starts against New England.
–From 2009-19, the Dolphins went 0-2 in the postseason. The Bills went 0-2. The Jets went 4-2. The Patriots went 16-8.
–In pop culture, when the Patriots last lost the AFC East, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Marley & Me” had just hit theaters, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” by Beyonce and “Live Your Life” by T.I. featuring Rihanna were atop the music charts, Drake was still 18 months away from releasing his first album, and Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen were denying reports of their alleged engagement. In American politics, a 47-year-old junior Senator from Illinois was the president-elect. In the NFL, Mike Shanahan coached his final game for the Denver Broncos.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 14, 2014
It was, obviously, quite the historic run.
With 11 straight division titles, the Patriots set an NFL record. By a mile. No other NFL team had ever won more than seven consecutive division titles, with the Los Angeles Rams winning seven straight NFC West titles from 1973-79.
Yet, as is the case with most every positive streak the Patriots had going for the Brady-Belichick era, the run is over in 2020.