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Patriots in command

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  December 20, 2009 06:18 PM

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In the locker room after today's victory, Matt Light admitted he had peeked up at the out-of-town scoreboard above Ralph Wilson Stadium. Over the course of the afternoon, with the results from three games, Light knew the Patriots' postseason aspirations could be crushed or cemented.

By the end of the afternoon, today became the most pivotal day of the Patriots season. Barring an unthinkable collapse, the Patriots are going back the playoffs after a one-year dry spell.

Both the Dolphins and Jets lost and the Patriots, now 9-5, hold a two-game edge over both of them with two games remaining. The Patriots will clinch the AFC East title with a victory in either of their last two games or if the Dolphins lose either of their final two games. The Jets, because of tiebreaking procedures, have been mathematically eliminated from winning the division.

The Patriots understood the signifcance of their victory coupled with the losses by their division opponents. Once they retreated to the locker room after the game, several players gathered around a televsion to watch overtime of the Jets Dolphins-Titans game.

"That was great news, to win the game and come in the locker room and see Tennessee kick that field goal," quarterback Tom Brady said. "That was great."

If the Patriots lose to both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans while the Dolphins beat the Texans and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins would claim the AFC East by the most narrow of margins. The teams would have split games against one another and own the same division record (4-2). The next tiebreaker is record against common opponents. The Dolphins would be 7-5 in those games, and the Patriots would be 6-6.

The Jets have been eliminated from the division title because they went 2-4 inside the AFC East.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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