With only four postseason victories in 36 years, New England took in stride its third consecutive victory--a 34-10 triumph Sunday over the New York Jets.
"We're happy, but far from satisfied," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said after the Patriots (10-4) clinched their second playoff berth in three years. "Starting 0-2, then going on to be the earliest Patriot team to clinch a playoff berth really says something."
None of the other seven Patriot teams that reached the playoffs clinched a spot with two games still to be played. And they've lost their only two postseason games since their last victory on Jan. 12, 1986.
"I told the players before, 'You can ride down Broadway and look around or try to go to the show.' We're trying to go to the show," Parcells said.
The Jets dropped to 1-13. Like the Patriots' success, New York's failures are treated almost matter-of-factly.
"We know we don't have a chance at the playoffs or anything else," Jet strong safety Victor Green said. "We're just trying to maintain a little dignity on this team."
Perhaps the only thing the teams have in common is that both may not play the first playoff weekend. The Patriots could get a first-round bye and the second home playoff game in their history if they maintain the second spot in the AFC postseason race. They trail only Denver (12-2) and lead the AFC East over Buffalo (9-5) with games remaining at Dallas and the New York Giants.
"It's right there for us," New England middle linebacker Ted Johnson said. "We still have a lot to play for. We still have the division to play for and a lot on the line."
The Jets were in the game late in the third quarter, trailing, 20-10, with the ball at their 28-yard line. Then Glenn Foley, making his first start in three NFL seasons, threw an interception that Ty Law returned 38 yards for a touchdown with 2:24 left in the period.
An interception and a botched punt helped the Patriots to a 20-3 halftime lead, and they stayed in control despite Foley's four-yard scoring pass to Keyshawn Johnson midway through the third quarter.
But at the end, it was the Patriots who celebrated, albeit quietly. At the two-minute warning, they shook hands on the field. And as the game ended, with a long line of red taillights from departing fans outside the stadium, the scoreboard inside flashed, "WE ARE PLAYOFF BOUND."