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New England Patriots' playoff-bye hopes take beating

The New England Patriots nearly pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history on Sunday night. Instead, they're left wondering how they couldn't finish off a San Francisco 49ers team that seemed ready to faceplant on the soggy Gillette Stadium turf.

A 28-point deficit quickly became a tie but ended as a 41-34 loss for the Patriots, who saw their seven-game winning streak come to a bitter end.

Now 10-4, New England's hopes of securing a first-round playoff bye were dealt a bitter blow. The Denver Broncos -- winners earlier Sunday in Baltimore -- leapfrogged the Patriots as the AFC's No. 2 seed. The Broncos (11-3) will earn a first-round bye if they take care of business against the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs. The Houston Texans pace the conference at 12-2.

We don't envy the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have to host what we imagine will be a ticked-off Patriots team next Sunday. New England closes at home against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17, providing a clear path to 12-4.

That's a record to be proud of, but being on the wrong side of a Sunday night classic could hurt Bill Belichick's team on multiple levels.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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