EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

December 17, 2012

Road to Super Bowl now filled with hurdles

Patriots: They have a much tougher road now

FOXBORO — Lost in the shuffle of one of the strangest rollercoaster rides here at Gillette Stadium last night, in which the New England Patriots overcame a four-touchdown deficit (31-3) only to blow it a few seconds later, is this fact: This Super Bowl “thing” isn’t going to be as easy as we all expected.

The tracks appeared to be greased for a bye, homefield and all of that juicy stuff en route to New Orleans in February.

They appeared to have more than made up for that 3-3 start with seven straight wins, including four by three touchdowns or more.

But that all changed last night with the Patriots’ 41-34 loss to the, oh-we-forgot-how-good-and-tough-they-are San Francisco 49ers.

The Denver Broncos, winners of nine in a row after being blitzed here at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 7, have catapulted past the Patriots and now are two easy wins on their schedule — home games against Cleveland and Kansas City.

They win, they get a one week vacation and will host somebody in Denver. As the probable No. 3 seed, that “somebody” is most probably the Patriots.

And the Houston Texans, humiliated here last Monday night (42-14), need only one win against Minnesota or (at) Indianapolis and they get the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Another painful development on this harder-than-expected Super Bowl run was the return of fumble-itis for Patriots “star” running back Stevan Ridley, who finished with 23 yards on nine rushes.

He was charged with only one lost fumble, but he lost the ball another time just after he hit the ground (it was overturned and ruled down by contact). He had another ball stripped last week in the red zone.

This happened last December as well – he lost two fumbles in December – and he disappeared into oblivion in January.

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