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The New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars met up Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. New England was looking to clinch the AFC East division title, while Jacksonville was looking to gain ground in the hunt for a wildcard playoff birth. New England was undefeated at home this season coming into the game, and Jacksonville had never won at Foxboro before. Both trends continued, as the Patriots cruised to an easy 35-7 victory, winning the AFC East and guaranteeing another trip to the playoffs.
The offense looked more in rhythm during this game than they had at maybe any point prior in this season (and that includes the Titans blowout). Tom Brady was Tom Terrific once again. He connected for 23 out of his 26 passes, racking up 267 yards, 4 touchdown passes, and a quarterback rating of 149.0. He was nearly perfect today. He threw no interceptions, and he averaged more than ten yards a completion. This means every time he connected, the Patriots got a first down. The passing game on the whole was incredible today. Wes Welker continued his quest to break the record for average receptions per game, catching 13 passes for 138 yards. He has simply been unstoppable this season. Every time he gets open he makes the play. And even if you hit him, it’s no guarantee you will knock him down. This has been his best year as a Patriot, and it’s been a bright spot in what has otherwise been an inconsistent and at times boring offense. Meanwhile, Randy Moss answered his critics with three touchdown receptions and good strong blocking on screen plays to his side.
Even the running game looked strong today. While no one went over 100 yards rushing, the team as a whole garnered 197 rushing yards to complement its 267 passing yards. They rushed 36 times to balance out 26 passing attempts. If they can maintain a running game like this in the playoffs, they will be incredibly dangerous. Teams will no longer be able to sit back and wait for the pass. The one blemish of the game DID come from the running game however, as Laurence Maroney fumbled the ball away in the Jaguars’ red zone, killing the Patriots’ first drive of the game. It turned out to be for nothing however, as the Patriots got the ball back after playing good four down defense, getting the ball back at the Jacksonville 35 and setting up Moss’ first TD catch. Lastly, the 4th quarter featured a run-based drive that ate up nearly the entire quarter, leaving the Jaguars just 30 seconds in the game to try for a comeback. Obviously, they could not.
The Patriots defense played spectacularly today. They kept Jacksonville off the scoreboard for three full quarters. They recorded two interceptions, once when Jacksonville had penetrated to within the New England 10-yard line. And they stopped the run. The key to beating the Jaguars is to stop Maurice Jones-Drew, and the Patriots did, limiting him to just 63 yards on the ground. This was the kind of defense that wins playoff games. They got good pressure on the quarterback, they defended well in the secondary, and they forced the Jaguars into a one-dimensional passing offense that had no hope of working. And this was all without their two best defensive players, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. When those two get healthy, this defense will be dangerous.
Congratulations to the Patriots for winning the AFC East. Despite an up and down season, this game was indisputably theirs. They outplayed the Jaguars on both offense and defense, and showed they are capable of playing exceptionally well when everything is clicking. Their last game of the season is a road game against the Texans. It should be an opportunity to rest key players who are battling injuries (Brady, Wilfork, Warren) and get them ready for the playoffs. The Patriots made a statement with today’s game: we are ready. They are ready to take on the elite teams of the AFC. This was a momentum-building game in preparation for two weeks from now. All we can hope for is that the momentum doesn’t die next week in Houston.