Patriots hold on to beat Jaguars 23-16

If the New England Patriots need to accomplish anything before

the postseason, it probably should be avoiding sluggish starts.

The AFC East champions had to rally from a double-digit deficit

for the second consecutive week, recovering from an early hole and

then holding off the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars 23-16 on

Sunday.

Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the first quarter but

bounced back with two touchdown passes to lead the come-from-behind

victory.

”We came out flat and I think it showed out there,” Patriots

receiver Wes Welker said. ”We’ve got to do a better job of

starting fast and doing what we do to take control of the

game.”

A week after falling behind 31-3 against San Francisco and tying

the game before losing 41-34, the Patriots (11-4) found themselves

down 10-0 in Jacksonville.

But the Jaguars faded in the third quarter for the fourth

consecutive week, lost for the 11th time in the last 12 games and

set a franchise record for losses in a season.

Brady had a lot to do with Jacksonville’s latest setback,

finding his rhythm after a sluggish start and picking apart

Jacksonville’s defense.

He completed 24 of 41 passes for 267 yards, his worst outing in

six games against the Jaguars. Welker caught 10 passes for 88

yards, passing Jerry Rice and Andre Johnson for the most 10-catch

games (18) in NFL history. Stevan Ridley ran 18 times for 84

yards.

But the team’s lethargic start got all the attention.

”They got off to that fast start and that kind of caught us by

surprise,” Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder said. ”I thought

we played better as the game progressed. We’ve just got to avoid

the slow starts and get the offense going right from the first

quarter.”

Brady hooked up with Welker for a 2-yard score on the second

play of the fourth quarter, putting the Patriots up 23-13. That

seemed like plenty of cushion against the offensively challenged

Jaguars. Jacksonville, though, had two decent chances to tie things

in the closing minutes.

Trailing by a touchdown, the Jags faced third-and-goal at the 1

when tight end Zach Potter jumped before the snap. So the

short-yardage situation became a passing play, and Chad Henne was

sacked, leaving Jacksonville with a fourth-and-goal play at the

10.

Chandler Jones hit Henne as he tried to throw, and Patrick Chung

intercepted the floater over the middle.

”It’s a bad feeling, obviously,” Potter said. ”It puts our

team in a bad situation there. It’s not the one play that cost us

the game.”

Potter said he had trouble hearing the snap count because

thousands of Patriots fans scoped up tickets and helped give

Jacksonville its biggest home crowd since 2004.

”It was really loud, which you don’t usually expect at home,”

Potter said.

Coach Mike Mularkey, though, blamed the officials for failing to

recognize and penalize New England for yelling out cadence during a

hard shift.

”That was disappointing because that was brought up to the

officials before the game,” Mularkey said. ”That was addressed.

We practiced it. We practiced it the whole week with those guys

shifting with the cadence. … Obviously they didn’t call it and we

jumped. Very frustrating.”

Regardless, the Jaguars got the ball back after the Patriots

failed to run out the clock.

Henne connected with Toney Clemons on fourth down with 22

seconds remaining and then Jordan Shipley for an 18-yard gain that

put them at the New England 12. But Chung intercepted Henne’s final

pass, essentially a jump ball to the middle of the end zone.

”A win is a win, but we know we’ve got to play better no matter

what,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. ”It’s better to come

out here when you’re not at your best and get a win. I think this

team really understands it’s all about us. We’ve got to play our

best each week. It’s disappointing knowing that we didn’t play as

good as we could.”

New England avoided consecutive losses in December for the first

time since 2002.

The Pats got some help, too.

The Jaguars had the ball inside New England’s 25 seven times,

but came away with a touchdown and three field goals.

And not scoring touchdowns against the league’s most prolific

offense is hardly a formula for success.

”We had them on their heels for a while,” Jaguars defensive

end Jeremy Mincey said. ”They just capitalized, got a few

interceptions and a few first downs on us. We held their scoring

average down, which is good, and held them to a lot of field goals,

which was excellent. It still wasn’t enough.”