Pats deal with second straight subpar performance

The New England Patriots have picked a bad time for some

mediocre performances.

Now they have just one regular-season game left to gain momentum

going into the playoffs.

New England got off to a slow start for the second straight week

and trailed the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars 10-0 before getting a

23-16 win on Sunday.

That victory followed a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in

which the Patriots had an even worse start to the game, falling

behind 31-3.

That’s how quickly the Patriots (11-4) went from a dominant team

with seven straight wins after a 42-14 rout of the Houston Texans

to a disappointed one.

”We always talk about how we throw out the stats and throw out

the records because it doesn’t mean anything,” defensive

coordinator Matt Patricia said Monday. ”We never really know what

we’re going to get or what we’re going to run up into.”

They ran into numerous problems on Sunday, some caused by the

Jaguars (2-13) and others they brought upon themselves.

Jacksonville had more first downs on its opening possession

(six) than New England totaled on its first four (five).

Tom Brady threw interceptions on two of the Patriots first three

series. And they punted on their last two, allowing the Jaguars to

move to the Patriots 12-yard line before Patrick Chung intercepted

Chad Henne’s pass on the final play.

”Certainly, (we) never really got into the game where we felt

like we were going to string together a bunch of drives,”

offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said.

The biggest problem was ”self-inflicted errors,” Brady said

Monday during his weekly appearance on WEEI radio.

”We’ve got to do a better job,” he said. ”We’ve got some

pretty important weeks of football ahead, and that’s when we really

need to play our best.”

The first chance to get rolling again comes Sunday at home

against the Miami Dolphins (7-8).

The Patriots beat the Dolphins 23-16 in Miami one week before

rolling over the Texans, who had the NFL’s best record at the

time.

”What matters is that we finish out the season the right way

and then try to prepare and have a great week of preparation,

whomever we play (in the playoffs),” McDaniels said.

Despite their recent problems, the Patriots still can be the

AFC’s top-seeded team. They’d achieve that with a win over the

Dolphins while the Texans lose to the Indianapolis Colts and the

Denver Broncos lose to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Patriots would finish second, and still get a first-round

bye, with a win and a loss by the Texans or Broncos.

They would be seeded third if all three win, or fourth if they

lose and the Baltimore Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals.

With all that uncertainty, the Patriots still are thinking ahead

even though they usually say the only game they focus on is the

next one.

”You can’t be totally oblivious to the possibilities that exist

out there,” coach Bill Belichick said. ”It’s really hard to be

specific on something like that when there are so many

possibilities. You’re working on a 25 percent chance of something;

whatever you’re working on, there’s probably a 75 percent chance

that you’re wrong.”

If they don’t get a bye, they’ll play Indianapolis or

Cincinnati. If they do, they won’t know their opponent until the

wild-card round is over.

So many possibilities.

”The most immediate one, that’s the one that we’ll take first

and that would be the wild-card weekend if we’re playing that

weekend,” Belichick said. ”We’ll definitely do as much

preparation as we can on those teams this week to make sure that

we’re ready to go on Sunday night or Monday morning if that’s the

way it goes.”

More immediately, the Patriots must analyze what went wrong

against the Jaguars – execution, effort, emotion – and try to make

sure it doesn’t happen against the Dolphins.

Brady’s passer rating of 73.9 was his lowest of the season.

Henne’s 348 yards passing were the third most the Patriots have

allowed.

Sure, the Patriots won.

But beating a team that had just one win in three months since

beating the Colts 22-17 on Sept. 23 – and doing it by just seven

points – left them thankful but dissatisfied.

”I’m proud of the way we responded,” defensive tackle Vince

Wilfork said, ”but, at the same time, at the end of the day it

won’t be good enough.”

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