Foxborough, Mass. - The New England Patriots entered Sunday's season finale against the San Francisco 49ers with an array of goals that would bridge the gap from the end of the regular season to the beginning of the playoffs. The New England Patriots exited Gillette Stadium with a 21-7 win over the futile 49ers, and can also feel satisfied they accomplished most, if not all, of their itinerary along the way.
The New England Patriots sustained their late-season momentum and confidence by coming away with a win Sunday, even if it was in less-than-perfect fashion against a far-from-perfect opponent. They survived turnovers on three of their five first half possessions and managed to keep the game tied at 7-7 at halftime mostly because the 49ers were simply overmatched. They played turnover-free in the second half, riding 116 yards rushing a touchdown from Corey Dillon and Tom Brady's second touchdown pass of the day to take a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter before getting many starters out of the game.
The New England Patriots also succeeded in leaving the game without any additional injuries, finding playing time for several reserve players, and keeping the starters sharp even though their performance, at times, was less than stellar.
As soon as the final whistle sounded, the New England Patriots moved on from the victory - which was meaningless in terms of wins and losses - and looked immediately ahead to the playoffs. Head coach Bill Belichick made it a point to congratulate his team on matching last season's franchise-best 14-2 record.
The New England Patriots 14-win season matches the franchise-best 14-2 mark they set last season en route to their second Super Bowl win in three years. It also ties the best regular-season record in league history by a defending Super Bowl champion, accomplished by five other teams, the latest being the 1998 Denver Broncos.
Indeed, the most important aspects of Sunday's win aren't in the details of the game but in the fact the New England Patriots didn't suffer any additional major injuries and can now look ahead to a bye week through the first round of the playoffs before a home divisional game the following week. The week off will gave the battered New England Patriots - who currently have 15 players on the injury list, including Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour and veteran cornerback Ty Law - a chance to heal from the 16-game regular season while giving injured players an extra week of recovery. The New England Patriots have played 14 straight weeks since their bye during Week 3 of the regular season.