Pats shake off early rust, rebound to down lowly Jags
Jacksonville, FL – Tom Brady and the New England Patriots shook off a poor first quarter, with the veteran quarterback passing for 267 yards and two scores on 24-of-41 efficiency to offset a pair of interceptions in a 23-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16 action.
Brady also tied Johnny Unitas for second place on the all-time list by throwing a touchdown pass in his 47th straight game. Drew Brees still holds the record at 54 consecutive games with at least one TD pass.
Wes Welker posted 88 yards and one score on 10 receptions and Stevan Ridley added 84 yards on 18 carries for the Patriots (11-4), the AFC East winners who finish the regular season by hosting Miami next Sunday afternoon.
"We came out way too flat and it showed," Welker admitted. "We have to do a better job of starting fast, keep doing what we've been doing and take control of games."
Danny Woodhead added a TD catch, while Patrick Chung recorded a pair of late picks which twice derailed Jacksonville attempts to tie the game.
Chad Henne was 29-of-51 for 348 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for the Jaguars (2-13), who squandered a 10-0 first-quarter lead and will head to Tennessee next week to close out the worst season in franchise history.
Justin Blackmon picked up 79 yards and his club's lone score on seven catches, complementing three field goals from Josh Scobee.
Brady connected with Welker for a 2-yard strike on the second play of the fourth quarter and the Patriots went up by a 23-13 score, before Scobee made his third field-goal try of the game, a 42-yard boot, on the next series to pull the hosts within seven.
Jacksonville's defense forced a three-and-out, and its offense moved to the Patriots' one-yard line seven plays later. After a rush for no gain, a false start penalty and a Henne sack, the hosts decided to go for it on 4th-and goal from the 10. Henne was hit from behind and the ball fluttered into the hands of Chung at the goal line with 3:14 remaining.
New England picked up a first down just prior to the two-minute warning, but Brady was sacked for a 10-yard loss on 3rd-and-7 from his own 37. A punt and short return placed the Jags at their own 38 with 54 seconds to play.
On first down, Chung was guilty of a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cecil Shorts which gave the hosts possession at the Pats' 47. Three incompletions followed before Henne completed a 17-yard pass to Toney Clemons, one upheld by review.
Henne hit Jordan Shipley for 18 yards to the Patriots' 12, and a spike killed the clock with eight seconds to go. Another incompletion followed and Henne's third-down heave was picked off by Chung in the end zone as time expired.
"I'm disappointed. But still very very proud of this football team," said Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey. "I don't know if I've been more proud of a football team in my life. They're going to go a long way if they keep playing like that, with that much heart and character."
Things looked a lot brighter for the hosts right out of the gate.
Henne was 6-for-6 on the opening drive of the contest, which ended on Blackmon's three-yard touchdown catch to complete a 78-yard march.
Brady was picked off three plays later by Chris Prosinski and Scobee hit from 41 yards away to cap the ensuing drive for a 10-0 game.
Stephen Gostkowski was good from 25 yards away on the Pats' next drive, and though Jacksonville continued to move the ball on its next possession, Scobee missed a 43-yard attempt.
Brady was intercepted once more, this time by Derek Cox, three plays into the following series. Montell Owens posted a 53-yard catch-and-run on the next play to get to the New England 21-yard line, but the drive sputtered and Scobee hit from 35 yards out to make it 13-3 early in the second.
Gostkowski slipped a 49-yarder inside the right upright and it was a seven- point game with 5:25 left in the half, and Brady connected with Woodhead on a 14-yard TD strike to make it 13-13 at intermission.
Gostkowski's boot from 38 yards out capped New England's first drive of the second half and gave the visitors a 16-13 edge.
The Patriots have won all six regular-season meetings with the Jaguars ... Jacksonville gained 202 yards in the first quarter alone -- setting a new franchise record -- and finished with 436 total yards of offense to 349 for New England ... Welker set a new NFL record for most games with 10-or-more catches, recording the 18th of his career and surpassing Andre Johnson and Jerry Rice for that honor ... Gostkowski recorded 11 points on Sunday, giving him a new career best in points during one season with 149, eclipsing his previous high of 148 from 2008 ... Shipley ended up with 82 yards on five catches ... The Jags' previous worst single-season record was 4-12, in their first season of existence back in 1995.