Sunday, December 23, 2012
Patriots Survive Crapfest 23-16, Mostly Because They Were Playing The Hapless Jaguars
Patrick Chung's (2 interceptions) interception in the end zone sealed a win that was way closer than it should have been for the Patriots. It is not hyperbole to say that if they were playing pretty much any other team in the NFL than Jacksonville, they would have lost. Oh well, I guess it was the predictable letdown/trap game after primetime matchups with the Texans and Niners in consecutive weeks.
New England (11-4, 6-2 away) spotted the Jaguars a 10-0 lead in the first quarter but after Jacksonville (2-13, 1-7 home) went up 13-3 early in the second quarter, it all went to shit for the team that is currently tied with the Chiefs (2-13) for the worst record in the NFL.
With all the guys that they sat with "injuries" or moved around, it appeared that the Patriots didn't have much interest in winning this game when it kicked off. However, maybe once they realized that Houston was losing (they fell 23-6 to Minnesota), they remembered that they were still able to get the No. 1 or 2 seed in the AFC. Hey, we all lose our minds at some point or another during the holidays.
Former Dolphins great Chad Henne (29 of 51, 348 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs) picked the Patriots apart in the first quarter but he soon regressed to the awful quarterback that he's always been. Conversely, Tom Brady (24 of 41, 267 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) threw two early interceptions but then he settled down and began to find plenty of holes in Jacksonville's awful defense.
Stevan Ridley (18 carries, 84 yards) ran well after his bobble led to Brady's first interception. Wes Welker (10 catches, 88 yards on 12 targets) was Brady's main target as always while Brandon Lloyd (6 catches, 62 yards on 12 targets) came back to Earth after his huge game vs. San Francisco and Aaron Hernandez (1 catch, 13 yards on 5 targets) was M.I.A. all game. It goes without saying that the Pats really miss Rob Gronkowski and he can't return soon enough, maybe next week?
University of Maine product Montell Owens (77 yards receiving; 42 yards rushing) made the most of his rare start while Jordan Shipley (5 catch, 82 yards on 10 targets) and Justin Blackmon (7 catch, 79 yards on 12 targets) took advantage of a depleted secondary for New England with no Alfonzo Dennard and a banged up Aqib Talib.
Blackmon caught a 3-yard touchdown to give Jacksonville a 7-0 lead and Josh Scobee's 41-yard field goal made it 10-0 in the first quarter. Stephen Gostkowski's 25-yard field goal got New England on the board late in the first quarter.
Scobee added a 35-yard field goal before the Patriots finally woke up. Gostkowski drilled a 49-yard field goal and Brady hit Danny Woodhead with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left in the first half to improbably tie it at 13.
Gostkowski's 38-yard field goal in the third quarter was the only score of the frame as both defenses settled in and each offense sputtered. Welker's 3-yard touchdown catch put New England up by 10 (23-13) and that was just enough for them to hold on. Scobee had a 42-yard field goal but Henne couldn't complete the comeback at the end. Story of his life.
Marquice Cole (6 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, pass defensed) had his first interception as a Patriot while Dont'a Hightower (6 tackles, 4 solo, sack, tackle for loss, pass defensed, quarterback hit) had one of his best games of the season. Kyle Arrington (7 solo tackles, tackle for loss) also played well in extended action for him.
The 2012 regular season ends next Sunday with the Patriots hosting the Dolphins (7-8) at Gillette Stadium (4:25 p.m., CBS). New England is currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC but they can move up if either Houston or Denver lose. That's what we have to root for, the Pats could even jump to No. 1 if both lose but that probably won't happen with Denver hosting Kansas City (Texans are at Colts).
The game means plenty so I would expect that almost all the healthy Patriots will play. The difference between a bye and having to play during Wild Card weekend is enormous so they should go all out to ensure that they win. Miami isn't going anywhere and they are not great by any means but they'll make it competitive mostly because their defense is above average.
UPDATE 12/24: The Patriots made a bunch of roster moves involving guys you probably have never heard of. They released fullback James Develin and wide receiver Kamar Aiken from the 53-man roster. They also released wide receiver/punt returner Tony Logan and offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren from the practice squad.
New England also received a one-week exemption for Jermaine Cunningham after his four-game suspension ended yesterday. They have a week to activate him to the roster, which they are expected to do. As it stands now, the Patriots have two open roster spots.
UPDATE 12/25: Aiken and Develin both cleared waivers today, meaning they are now free agents. The Patriots have three open slots on their practice squad and both retain practice squad eligibility so look for at least one of them to stick around Foxborough.
UPDATE 12/26: Today, the Patriots signed three guys to the practice squad: Aiken, Develin and cornerback Cyhl Quarles. You're obviously familiar with Aiken and Develin while Quarles spent two plus weeks on New England's practice squad earlier this season.