Patriots Finish Season By Resting

The New England Patriots managed to have a bit of fun in their season finale by sending in reserve quarterback Doug Flutie for an unusual extra point attempt. Flutie's history making drop kick was only the subplot of the Patriots' strategy. New England pulled their starters as Miami played theirs. In spite of playing their 3rd-string players, the Patriots still almost sent the game to overtime. There's a message for those watching: This team's backups are almost good enough to win on their own.

PHOTO: Andre Davis #18 of the New England Patriots returns a kickoff for 66 yards in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium January 1, 2006 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Despite having the chance to move up to the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots hardly treated Sunday's regular-season finale against the Dolphins as life or death. The starters left after one quarter, a rookie receiver played cornerback, and coach Bill Belichick got 43-year-old backup quarterback Doug Flutie on all the highlight shows by letting him dropkick an extra point.

The lighthearted approach -- which contributed to a 28-26 loss -- goes out the window now as the fourth-seeded Patriots (10-6) prep for Saturday night's home playoff game against the fifth-seeded Jaguars (12-4).

"This was fun and all that," Flutie said of his history-making moment, "but now we've got to get ready for the playoffs. It's time to get real serious about that."

The Patriots last played the Jaguars in the 2004 preseason finale when they rested all their starters and accepted a ho-hum, 31-0 beating at Gillette Stadium. The last time Jacksonville saw the Pats' "A" game was in Week 15 of 2003, when the Patriots posted a 27-13 home win.

With little recent history between the teams, the Patriots will doing a lot of film work this week. They would have been much more familiar with the Steelers or Chiefs -- the two other teams that they might have been matched up against.

"We can't do anything but watch film and prepare," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "The only thing I know (about the Jaguars) is that they're a great team. We wouldn't be playing them if they weren't a good team. Hey, it is what it is. Nobody's going to bow down to us, and we're not going to bow down to anybody. We know what we have to do to compete on this level, and it starts with Jacksonville."

The Patriots' playoff schedule is more compressed that usual. In their Super Bowl seasons of 2001, 2003 and 2004, they had a first-round bye.

"Obviously, you'd always want to have the bye," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "That's what you play for. We didn't get that. We won our division. It would have been good to end up on a positive note (Sunday). All that aside, we still have a great opportunity in front of us."

NOTES

--QB Doug Flutie's dropkick was the first successful one in the NFL since Ray McLean of the Chicago Bears converted a PAT against the Giants in the 1941 NFL title game. Coincidentally, 1941 was the only year Belichick's late father, Steve, played in the NFL -- as a fullback for the Lions.

Flutie credited ESPN's Chris Berman with planting the seeds of the kick. Flutie, who had practiced dropkicking during his time in the CFL but had never done it in a game, said he was chatting about the subject with Berman at a recent practice. Afterward, Belichick called Flutie into his office -- Berman was there, too -- and asked him if he could dropkick.

"I said, 'Well, I can do it. There's no practical application for it, but we can do it.' So, he says, 'We're going to start working on it.' We messed around with it a little bit. We were hoping to do it last week. We never got the opportunity. Just out of the blue (on Sunday Belichick) said to go kick it. I liked it better that way because I had no nerves about it."

It was big day for Flutie all around. In a pregame ceremony, the team honored the 1985 AFC championship Patriots. Flutie joined the Pats in a trade midway through the 1987 season, so he was friends with many of the players who remained from the Super Bowl team. Flutie chatted with his ex-mates in the tunnel before the game.

--A two-minute drive by a Patriots quarterback? We've seen that dozens of times with Tom Brady. This time it was rookie Matt Cassel's turn. The seventh-rounder from USC played the final three quarters against the Dolphins and almost brought the Patriots back from a 12-point deficit. Cassel (11-of-20 for 168 yards and a healthy 116.2 passer rating) threw two TD passes, including a 9-yarder to TE Benjamin Watson on the game's final play.

Cassel's conversion pass -- which would have forced overtime -- sailed high, but the 11-play, 62-yard drive, which began with 1:46 left, was a nice capper to a quiet season for Cassel, whose only other action came in mop-up duty in Week 4. He moved up from the No. 3 quarterback spot for the first time.

"All good quarterbacks have a certain calm about them," Watson said of Cassel's presence in the huddle on the final march. "Matt definitely has that. He's definitely a field general. That's why he's here. Obviously, we've got a great quarterback in Tom. But Matt will be a (starting) quarterback one day."

Cassel threw only 33 passes in four years at USC as he backed up two Heisman Trophy winners -- Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

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