The New England Patriots gave up the Miami Miracle on Sunday. The Dolphins’ 69-yard, pass-plus-two-laterals touchdown play lifted Miami to a 34-33 victory on the game’s final snap, kept the team in the playoff picture and prevented the Patriots from clinching the AFC East title.
Don’t cry for New England, though. The Patriots have three opportunities remaining to secure their 10th consecutive division crown.
“There is always a 24-hour rule — win or loss,” New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower told Mac Cerullo of the Daily News of Newburyport, Massachusetts, while helping deliver 8,600 cans of soup to the New Hampshire Food Bank on Tuesday. “You want to continue to move on whether it’s a loss or a win. You don’t want to get complacent, and you don’t want to sulk in something like that. It sucks, it’s part of football, but you’ve got to move on, and, luckily, we have a few more games, and the fact that we have more games to play is enough for moving on.”
The play moved Miami within two games of New England’s lead in the AFC East with three weeks remaining in the regular season. It also kept the Patriots from posting their 16th consecutive 10-win season, which would have tied the NFL record streak achieved by the San Francisco 49ers from 1983 through 1998.
New England’s next chance to win No. 10 comes on Sunday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Patriots join the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs as teams that could secure division titles on Sunday. With the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints already wearing their division crowns for 2018, it’s possible the only title to be decided in the final two weeks of the regular season would be the AFC North.
At 7-5-1, Pittsburgh is one-half game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in a division in which even the last-place Cincinnati Bengals, at 5-8, are alive. The other AFC North team, the Cleveland Browns, is 5-7-1.
Since Hightower joined the Patriots in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, New England has a 5-0 record against the Steelers.
“Playing at Heniz Field, that atmosphere is pretty crazy,” Hightower said, “and you look at their offense, they have a lot of offensive weapons.”
The Patriots-Steelers game will be broadcast by Alabama’s FOX affiliates at 3:25 p.m. CST as the second half of a Sunday doubleheader. The first half will feature the Dolphins-Minnesota Vikings game at noon, except for WHNT in Huntsville, which will carry the Tennessee Titans-New York Giants game.
FOX affiliates in Alabama will broadcast the Cowboys-Indianapolis Colts game at noon Sunday. Viewers who can receive WXTX in Columbus, Georgia, will be able to see the Arizona Cardinals-Atlanta Falcons game at that time.
Week 15 kicks off with an AFC West blockbuster between the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers at 7:20 p.m. Thursday.
Week 15 has two extra nationally televised game as the NFL plays two Saturday games this week and next week. NFL Network will televise this week’s Saturday games — Texans-New York Jets at 3:30 p.m. and Browns-Denver Broncos at 7:20.
NBC’s Sunday night game features the Rams and Philadelphia Eagles at 7:20. ESPN’s Monday night game features the Saints and Carolina Panthers at 7:15.
The Alabama Game of the Week is the Ravens-Tampa Bay Buccaneers contest on Sunday. The teams have 12 players from state high schools and colleges on their active rosters.
The complete Week 15 schedule (with all times central and with point spreads from vegasinsider.com):
· Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5), 7:20 p.m. (FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime Video)
· Houston Texans (-6) at New York Jets, 3:30 p.m. (NFL Network)
· Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos (-3), 7:20 p.m. (NFL Network)
· Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (-8.5), noon
· Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts (-3), noon
· Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills (-2.5), noon
· Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (-6), noon
· Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings (-7), noon
· Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-3), noon
· Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5), noon
· Tennessee Titans at New York Giants (-2.5), noon
· Washington Redskins at Jacksonville Jaguars (-7), noon
· Seattle Seahawks (-4.5) at San Francisco 49ers, 3:05 p.m.
· New England Patriots (-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers, 3:25 p.m.
· Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams (-11), 7:20 p.m. (NBC)
· New Orleans Saints (-6) at Carolina Panthers, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.