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Patriots stumble by Jaguars in Jacksonville

Sunday, December 23, 2012

 

After a letdown a week ago against one of the NFL's best teams, you had to wonder if there might be another against one of the NFL's worst teams.

Returning to the same field where they won a Super Bowl eight years ago, the New England Patriots managed to stumble their way to a closer-than-it-needed-to-be 23-16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday in Jacksonville, FL.

If the opening drive of the game provided any indication, the Patriots would find themselves in more than just a little trouble. Jacksonville moved the ball 78 yards in nine plays for a touchdown - the first score for the Jaguars' offense on an opening game drive in 25 games, snapping a league worst streak in that department. The Chad Henne-to-Justin Blackmon three yard TD pass was also Jacksonville's first touchdown in seven drives inside the opponents' red zone.

Could it start any worse? Could the Patriots defense care any less than what they showed?

Oh sure, they could. A Tom Brady pass intended for Stevan Ridley was bobbled and tipped into the air, and Jacksonville's Chris Prosinski picked it off at the Jaguars' 47 on just the Patriots' 3rd play from scrimmage. The Jags' Josh Scobee converted the turnover into a 41-yard field goal and stunningly, Jacksonville jumped on the Patriots 10-0, with 5:43 still to play in the first quarter.

So much for jumping on the Jaguars, and taking the home crowd out of the game early.

The Patriots finally got the offense in gear later in the quarter with the no-huddle hurry-up, but a 10-play drive eventually stalled at the Jacksonville seven, forcing NE to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski 25 yard field goal to get on the board at 10-3. The score seemed to merely fire-up the Jags on offense again, moving with relative ease against the Patriot defense until Scobee hooked a 43-yard field goal attempt.

With 16 seconds left in the first, Brady was picked off for a second time by Derrick Cox, and on the ensuing play Henne hit Montel Owens for 53 yards to the New England 21.

Jacksonville torched the Patriots' defense for a franchise record 202 total yards in the first quarter...not exactly championship-calibre play. Mercifully, the first quarter ended with just a 10-3 deficit, but were the mistakes for a second straight week an aberration, or a trend?

With 13:07 to play in the second quarter, Scobee connected from 35 yards after the NE defense discovered it had a backbone, and stiffened at its own 17. Gostkowski answered from 49 yards with 5:25 to play in the period to pull the Pats within seven. Then, getting the ball back with 3:49 left in the half, the Patriots finally found the end zone on a 14 yard pass from Brady to Danny Woodhead. Somehow, someway...as bad as it may have been to start, New England forged a 13-13 tie with the 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars.

With the first possession of the second half, Brady moved the offense 60 yards to the Jacksonville 20 before the drive stalled, and Gostkowski booted a 38-yard field goal for the first Patriot lead of the game at 16-13. Still, it was more "miss" than "hit" with the offense, as New England's top-rated unit continued to sputter against the 31st ranked Jaguar defense.

The Patriots defense, however, managed to get a turnover back as Marquise Cole intercepted Henne with 6:39 to play in the quarter. Cole's pick is the 26th straight game for the defense to record a takeaway...the longest active streak in the NFL. But the offense could not take advantage of the gift...until the next drive, after the defense forced a Jacksonville three-and-out..

On the second play of the 4th quarter, the offense finished off a nine-play, 59 yard drive with Brady finding Wes Welker from two yards out for the score, and the Pats increased their margin to 23-13. Jacksonville pulled back within a touchdown following an 11-play, 56 yard drive on a 42 yard Scobee field goal. That left 8:42 on the clock, and Tom Brady with a chance to do his thing...and run it out.

But he couldn't do it, managing just three plays-and-out...giving the Jaguars an opportunity to make their entire season. And they took advantage, swiftly moving the ball downfield to the Pats' one, when tight end Zach Potter jumped off-sides to push the ball back to the six with 4:06 remaining. Dont'a Hightower then followed with a sack of Henne (first of the day for the defense) back to the 11, when Chandler Jones made the play of the day, hitting Henne on 4th-and-goal as he released the ball...where it found the hands of Patrick Chung at the goal line.

But wait - it wasn't over yet.

The Pats offense, sputtering most of the day, came up short again and could not run out the clock, giving the Jags one final shot with :59 seconds left and no time outs. After a roughing penalty against Chung on Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville had the ball within striking range at the Patriot 47. On 4th and 10, Henne found Toney Clemons for 17 yards, with :22 seconds remaining. Then, Jordan Shipley for 18 more to the 12...and on the final play of the game, Chung leapt in the back of the end zone and came up with his second interception of the day...ending the upset bid.

The Patriots avoided a first-ever regular season loss to the Jaguars, holding on for the 23-16 win in front of the largest Jacksonville home crowd in eight years. But did the San Francisco letdown follow them to Florida? The answer could come next week, in the regular season finale at home against Miami. 

 

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