Patriots Play Mistake-free Football

It was only two weeks ago many wondered what happened to the Patriots of old. After struggling to get past the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions, the Patriots were shut out by the Miami Dolphins. In the two games since, New England has played some of it's best football of the year. A 40-7 drubbing of the Texans, and a solid 24-21 win over a good Jacksonville team has the team back on track.

The Patriots marched into hostile Jacksonville with the Jaguars desperately needing a win. Instead, New England nailed down its fourth consecutive AFC East title with an impressive 24-21 victory.

Tom Brady led a precision passing attack that sliced and diced the Jaguars for 249 yards. Brady hit 11 receivers as the Patriots used the quick passing game to move the football on the stout Jacksonville defense.

"I thought offensively we had pretty good execution for most of the game," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "We tried to mix some runs in there to keep them honest, but we made most of our yards throwing the ball. We had a lot of them on fairly short throws. It's hard to get the ball over the top of these guys; they do a good job of seeing the field. I thought we had a pretty good day offensively."

The Patriots running game was shut down for most of the day. Late in the fourth quarter, Brady led the team in rushing with 31 yards. However, Laurence Maroney ripped off a 27-yard touchdown run with 4:36 left to put New England on top 24-14.

The Patriots defense allowed three big plays in the game: a 74-yard touchdown run by Maurice Drew, a 41-yard catch by Ernest Wilford and a 33-yard touchdown pass from David Garrard to Matt   Jones. While those plays allowed the Jaguars to stay in the game, New England's defense kept Jacksonville under wraps for most of the day.

The Patriots played one of their best overall games of the year. They didn't turn the football over, Brady was only sacked once, and the team was sharp on offense and defense. In the end, New England clinched the division title on the road in one of the toughest places to play in the NFL and can now start setting its sights on the postseason.

"We all collectively look at each other and realize we had to do more," offensive tackle Matt Light said. "So, today we went out and proved that we're a pretty good football team. There's not many times when you come into the locker room, even after a big win, that you feel pretty relaxed with a sense of accomplishment like today. The season is so long, and everybody has worked hard. This is a culmination of our offseason, our preseason and a lot of tough games won here in the regular season."


--By virtue of Sunday's 24-21 victory over Jacksonville, the Patriots clinched the AFC East title and have qualified for the playoffs. As a division champion, New England is assured of hosting at least one home playoff game. The Patriots have won a franchise-record four consecutive AFC East titles and have won five of the last six division crowns dating.

"We've accomplished something now," LB Tedy Bruschi said. "There are a lot of teams that get to the playoffs as a wild-card contender or something like that, and you haven't really accomplished anything yet until you get to the AFC championship or the Super Bowl, but going into the playoffs you're a division champion. I think we can look at it for today and the next couple of days as we have accomplished something now. That's why I have a hat on my head. It's nice to be a division champion. It's our first goal. The first thing you have to do is win the division and then go from there."

--Rookie RB Laurence Maroney gave the Patriots a 24-14 lead on a 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The touchdown was his sixth of the season and his fifth via a running play. The 27-yard touchdown run was New England's longest scoring run of the season, topping Maroney's 25-yard touchdown run at Cincinnati on Oct. 1.

"It was a good feeling, to get back out there and play with the team, to help the team in any way possible," said Maroney, who had missed two games due to torn rib cartilage. "It hurt (to be out). Like I was telling everybody, I'm not good on the sideline, no good on the bench. I couldn't wait to get back and play."

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