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PATS AN ALL-TIME GREAT NO LONGER

History will remember this as a team that fell just short.

They were minutes from glory. Minutes from perfection.

Instead, those minutes have turned into an eternity.

For these New England Patriots will have to live forever knowing they fell achingly short of being called one of history's greatest teams.

"It's not even worth talking about now because it's over," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "It didn't happen."

Few teams have ever lost so much in a single game.

Losing the lead in the final minute of a Super Bowl is bad enough. Only one other team has ever done that. But the Patriots also missed an opportunity to join the Steelers of the 1970s as the only team with four Super Bowl titles in a single decade.

And, most heartbreaking of all, the Patriots lost a chance to join the 1972 Dolphins as the only unbeaten, untied team in NFL history.

"It just shows how difficult it is to be undefeated in this league," said Dick Anderson, a safety on the '72 Dolphins. "There have been four teams that came into the last game undefeated and three of the four didn't make it."

So, instead of making history with the Dolphins, the Patriots join the 1934 and '42 Bears as undefeated teams to lose in the NFL's championship game.

When they look back on what went wrong, the Patriots may see clues that were ignored along the way. The team was unstoppable in the first half of the season but much less dominant in the last couple of months.

New England probably should have lost at Baltimore on Dec.3 but had an unbelievable amount of good fortune in the final minutes. The Patriots could have lost to the Giants in the regular-season finale but survived at the end.

They averaged a little more than 40 points in their first 11 games but just more than 28 in the next seven, including the postseason.

And when New England needed it most, the highest-scoring offense in NFL history came up lame.

"(The Giants) just put a lot of pressure on your offensive scheme," quarterback Tom Brady said. "At times, we handled it pretty well, and at times we didn't. Because of our inconsistency, it really limited what we could produce in terms of scoring. There were plenty of drives where we moved the ball 50 yards, and then got nothing out of it.

"That's not good enough at the end of the day."

And it will not be good enough for history.

The Patriots arrived in Arizona fighting for a chance to be included in the discussion of history's greatest teams.

And now they leave as one of the greatest teams to have not won a championship.

"Everyone is down, and heartbroken," cornerback Asante Samuel said. "We weren't able to do what it takes."

FAST FACTS

Where's Randy?

During the regular season, Randy Moss led the Patriots with 1,493 receiving yards (on 98 catches) and an NFL-record 23 TD catches. Then in the postseason ... well, look at the numbers:

Date Opponent Rec. Yds. TDs

1/12 Jaguars 1 14 0

1/20 Chargers 1 18 0

2/3 Giants 5 62 1

Total 7 94 1

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