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Imperfect team could lose key players in offseason

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The only perfect thing about the Patriots was their record.

Now they don't even have that.

Dominant in the first half of the season, they survived some close calls afterward. But that finally caught up with them in the Super Bowl and left them facing an offseason of what-ifs and what-will bes.

What if their offensive line studded with three Pro Bowl players had kept the team's most important player from being knocked down time after time in the most important game?

Will Randy Moss and Asante Samuel leave?

Will Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau, the three oldest defensive starters, retire?

And next time, will coach Bill Belichick hang around until the end of the game instead of heading for the locker room with a second left and a security escort Tom Brady would have envied?

The two-time Super Bowl MVP couldn't elude the steamrolling pass rush of the New York Giants the way he does the paparazzi who stalk him on the streets of the city where the new Super Bowl champions will be honored at a victory parade today.

Brady was sacked five times in Sunday's 17-14 loss, the most in his 92 games since the New York Jets did that in the third game of the 2003 season on Sept. 21, 2003.

So the Patriots finished 18-1 and disappointed, not 19-0 and historic. That left the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who were 17-0, as the only NFL team to go undefeated.

Brady was a near unanimous choice for the league's MVP and was brilliant in the first eight games of the season. He was not as good after that.

His five worst passer ratings came in his last eight games, including the postseason. In the AFC championship game against San Diego, he threw a season-high three interceptions. In the Super Bowl, he was uncharacteristically inaccurate on some passes even when he had time to throw.

'I'm sure we all could have done things better, but it's just part of competition,' Brady said of the devastating defeat.

New England won three Super Bowls in four seasons before falling short the next three years - losing to Denver in a divisional playoff game, to Indianapolis in last year's AFC championship game and to New York in the latest disappointment.