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12/23/2012 6:11 PM EST
Patriots hold on to beat Jaguars 23-16
NEW ENGLAND 23, JACKSONVILLE 16

By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Coming off consecutive prime-time
games at home and facing one of the NFL's worst teams on the
road, the New England Patriots were poised for a letdown.



They surely didn't expect a near meltdown.



Tom Brady overcame a rough start by throwing two touchdown
passes, and the Patriots held on to beat the woeful Jacksonville
Jaguars 23-16 on Sunday.



"We came out flat and I think it showed out there," Patriots
receiver Wes Welker said. "We've got to do a better job of
starting fast and doing what we do to take control of the game.
"



A week after falling behind 31-3 against San Francisco, the
Patriots found themselves down 10-0 in Jacksonville. Brady had
two interceptions in the first quarter, the second one helping
the Jaguars (2-13) build a double-digit lead.



But the Jaguars faded in the third quarter for the fourth
consecutive week, lost for the 11th time in the last 12 games
and set a franchise record for losses in a season.



Brady had a lot to do with the home team's latest setback,
finding his rhythm after a sluggish start and picking apart
Jacksonville's defense.



He hooked up with Welker for a 2-yard score on the second play
of the fourth quarter, putting the Patriots (11-4) ahead 23-13.
That seemed like plenty of cushion against the offensively
challenged Jaguars. Jacksonville, though, had two decent chances
to tie things in the closing minutes.



Trailing by a touchdown, the Jags faced third-and-goal at the 1
when tight end Zach Potter jumped before the snap. So the
short-yardage situation became a passing play, and Chad Henne
was sacked, leaving Jacksonville with a fourth-and-goal play at
the 10.



Chandler Jones hit Henne as he tried to throw, and Patrick Chung
intercepted the floater over the middle.



"It's a bad feeling, obviously," Potter said. "It puts our team
in a bad situation there. It's not the one play that cost us the
game."



Potter said he had trouble hearing the snap count because
thousands of Patriots fans scoped up tickets and helped give
Jacksonville its biggest home crowd since 2004.



"It was really loud, which you don't usually expect at home,"
Potter said.



Coach Mike Mularkey, though, blamed the officials for failing to
recognize and penalize New England for yelling out cadence
during a hard shift.



"That was disappointing because that was brought up to the
officials before the game," Mularkey said. "That was addressed.
We practiced it. We practiced it the whole week with those guys
shifting with the cadence. ... Obviously they didn't call it and
we jumped. Very frustrating."



Regardless, the Jaguars got the ball back after the Patriots
failed to run out the clock.



Henne connected with Toney Clemons on fourth down with 22
seconds remaining and then Jordan Shipley for an 18-yard gain
that put them at the New England 12. But Chung intercepted
Henne's final pass, essentially a jump ball to the middle of the
end zone.



"A win is a win, but we know we've got to play better no matter
what," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. "It's better to come
out here when you're not at your best and get a win. I think
this team really understands it's all about us. We've got to
play our best each week. It's disappointing knowing that we
didn't play as good as we could."



New England avoided consecutive losses in December for the first
time since 2002.



Brady completed 24 of 41 passes for 267 yards, his worst outing
in six games against Jacksonville. Welker caught 10 passes for
88 yards, passing Jerry Rice and Andre Johnson for the most
10-catch games (18) in NFL history. Stevan Ridley ran 18 times
for 84 yards.



Brady entered the game having thrown for 1,207 yards, with 13
touchdowns and no interceptions, in five wins against the
Jaguars. His string of success ended with his first pass,
though.



Ridley tipped the ball down the sideline, and safety Chris
Prosinski picked it off for his first interception of the
season. Jacksonville moved the ball, but settled for a field
goal.



And that was the story of the day for Mularkey's team.



The Jaguars had the ball inside New England's 25 seven times,
but came away with a touchdown and three field goals.



And not scoring touchdowns against the league's most prolific
offense is hardly a formula for success.



"We had them on their heels for a while," Jaguars defensive end
Jeremy Mincey said. "They just capitalized, got a few
interceptions and a few first downs on us. We held their scoring
average down, which is good, and held them to a lot of field
goals, which was excellent. It still wasn't enough."



Henne completed 29 of 51 passes for 348 yards, with a touchdown
and three interceptions. His 3-yard TD pass to Justin Blackmon
to open the game was Jacksonville's first touchdown on its
opening possession since Oct. 9, 2011, against Cincinnati.



But the ending is all that matters for Jacksonville, which left
owner Shad Khan with decisions to make about Mularkey and
general manager Gene Smith.



NOTES: Brady has thrown a TD pass in 47 consecutive games, tying
Johnny Unitas for second on the NFL's all-time list. He trails
Drew Brees by seven. ... Mularkey gave every player a baseball
bat before the game with the words "violent, physical,
relentless" on it as a motivational tool. ... Jaguars WR Cecil
Shorts III and G Uche Nwaneri left the game with concussions.



---



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