BOSTON (CBS) — It took a last-second interception and two defensive stands in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots escaped Jacksonville with a narrow 23-16 victory. Just like everybody expected, right?
Of course, that wasn’t nearly the expectation heading in, but two early Tom Brady interceptions got the Patriots into a deep hole. They dug themselves out, tying the game before halftime and taking a three-point lead on the opening drive of the second half and eventually holding on for a seven-point win.
The good news for the Patriots is that they won, improved to 11-4 and, thanks to a Houston loss, still have an opportunity to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win next week and another Houston loss.
That’s the future, though, and we can’t predict it. What we can do is look back at this one and point out the four ups and four downs from the Patriots’ win.
No surprise here, but Wes Welker was yet again Tom Brady’s most reliable target on offense. Welker finished the game with 10 receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown, but it was his timing as much as anything else that helped the Patriots most.
With the Patriots clinging to a 16-13 lead in the third quarter, Welker took a handoff on an end-around for nine yards and a first down, getting the Patriots near midfield. Two plays later, Welker ran a deep crossing route and made an outstanding catch on a slightly overthrown pass that caused Welker to fall to the turf after extending for the catch. That play gained 25 yards and got the Patriots to the Jacksonville 17-yard line. Shortly thereafter, when two rushing plays inside the 2-yard line failed to get the job done, Brady looked to Welker on a quick out. Welker hauled in the pass and chugged across the goal line to give the Patriots their biggest lead of the day and what proved to be the game-winning points.
It was Welker’s 18th career game with 10 or more catches, passing Jerry Rice for most in NFL history. He’s now caught 110 or more passes in five of his six seasons in New England. There should be no questioning this man’s value to the team.
Last week, the talk surrounding Ridley was all about fumbles. He quickly changed the subject early on in this one, gaining 34 yards on four carries in the Patriots’ first scoring drive.
He finished the day with a solid 84 yards on 18 carries (4.7 YPC), and he showed he’s not short on confidence when it comes to carrying the ball.
“That’s what we had to focus on, because look at how many turnovers we had last week, starting with myself,” Ridley said of the focus on ball security. “We focused on that, and that’s what we have to do. When we carry the ball, we have to bring it back to our offense. We can’t turn it over, we can’t have fumbles. … We’re going to focus on the small things that are going to help us win, and that’s keeping the ball in our possession.”
The CBS broadcast team of Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots may have had trouble pronouncing his name, but the tight end affectionately known as “Hoo-Man” came up big for the second straight week. No, it wasn’t a Rob Gronkowski-level impact, but Hoomanwanui provided two big plays on Sunday.
On a second-and-10 from the Patriots’ 20-yard line, Brady hit Hoomanawanui over the middle for a big 32-yard gain. That drive would end with a Patriots field goal, getting them on the board for the first time of the afternoon. The 32-yard connection was Brady’s longest pass of the day.
Hoomanawanui’s second catch of the day was a big one, too. It came on third-and-4 from the Patriots’ 20, when Brady hit Hoomanawanui on an out route to the left side. The tight end looked to just be able to pick up the first down but then broke free from a tackle to turn it into a 14-yard gain. That drive didn’t end in Patriots points, but Hoomanawanui’s effort helped extend the drive, take more time off the clock and give the Jaguars just 54 seconds to drive 62 yards to tie the game.
It was the type of role-playing performance that goes a long way in victories.
The safety did not have a good game overall on Sunday. He struggled badly in pass coverage, getting replaced by rookie Tavon Wilson at one point, and he committed a costly personal foul on the Jaguars’ final drive which gave Jacksonville 15 free yards on a hit Chung should not have delivered.
However, with two interceptions, both in the end zone and one to end the game, Chung earned himself some praise.
The Entire Team In The First Quarter
What contributed to coming out slow and falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter? There’s no easy answer, so the entire team and coaching staff has to share the blame. The Patriots entered as two-touchdown favorites and were expected by most prognosticators to win big, but they couldn’t do anything in the first quarter.
It started when the defense allowed Chad Henne to go a perfect 6-for-6 on the Jaguars’ opening drive, which went for 78 yards on nine plays. Brady then forced a pass to Ridley, who was covered, and the ball bounced into the arms of Jaguars safety Chris Prosinski for an interception. The Jags then drove 30 yards and kicked a field goal, taking a stunning 10-0 lead over the Pats.
It would’ve been worse, too, had Josh Scobee not missed a very makeable 43-yard field goal later in the first.
It lacked explanation, and while the Patriots were fortunate enough to walk away with a victory, Brady put it best: They were lucky to win.
By NFL standards, Tom Brady had a decent day, but by Brady’s own high standards, it wasn’t a great afternoon. The two touchdowns and 267 passing yards were good, but those two interceptions were costly.
The first, as previously mentioned, was forced into coverage and appeared to be tipped before Ridley could get his hands on it. While Brandon Lloyd may have been partially at fault for the second interception for not making a better effort on the ball, it was yet again thrown into coverage and was a risky throw.
Brady showed plenty of toughness throughout the day, and there’s no need to harp on the two picks, but if the defense comes out like that against a playoff team, Brady’s going to need to be a lot better in order to keep his team in the game.
The two interceptions saved the Patriots from an embarrassing loss to the Jaguars, but they were only in that position because of the defense’s lousy performance overall.
The Jaguars entered the game with the 31st-ranked offense, averaging 284.1 yards. On Sunday, they gained 436 yards.
The Patriots were able to hold the Jaguars to just above their season average in points (15.6), but allowing that many yards and 22 first downs should never happen against a team like Jacksonville.
Notably worthy of criticism on defense was the pass rush. Chandler Jones emerged with two key plays late in the game, but for most of the game, the pass rush was nowhere to be found, allowing Chad Henne too much time in the pocket.
Sorry, I know he’s in the ups, but he can’t escape the downs. Had Chung been able to defend the pass even decently, he could have saved the Patriots a lot of trouble. Aqib Talib was forced to play through some pretty apparent hip pain, Tavon Wilson was thrown into the mix, all while Devin McCourty was getting re-acclimated to the cornerback position. It’s wrong to pinpoint Chung as the issue in the pass defense, but he may have been the biggest.
And all of that was before his personal foul penalty on the Jaguars’ final drive. Such penalties for hitting defenseless receivers are debated these days for their place in the game, but there is no doubt that what Chung did was illegal. The officials made that much clear by throwing four flags at the spot of the foul. The unnecessary penalty moved the Jaguars from their own 38-yard line to the Patriots’ 47, giving Jacksonville free yards on a drive where they needed to reach the end zone. It ultimately didn’t cost the Patriots a win, but it’s the type of play that doesn’t fly in New England and led to Chung often finding himself on the inactive list several times this season.