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Monday, December 28, 2009

Where has this team been all season? Patriots win AFC East title

For most of this season, Patriots fans (that are somewhat rational) have been resigned to the fact that yes New England would make the playoffs but they'd probably get bounced in the first round. Bottom line, they weren't going to make any noise.

Well yesterday's events threw a wrench in that depressing blueprint as the Patriots played their best game of the season with a 35-7 win over the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.

It was the Patriots' (10-5) third straight win and it clinched the AFC East title. Tom Brady (23 for 26, 267 yards) threw four touchdowns passes, three to Randy Moss and Wes Welker had 13 catches for 138 yards.

For the first time all season, New England's running game featured a stable of four healthy backs and they produced a season-high 197 yards rushing.

Still without Vince Wilfork, the defense looked great, making an early fourth-down stop and picking off two errant throws by David Garrard.

New England received the opening kickoff and marched down the field on their best, most creative drive of the year. However, Laurence Maroney fumbled at the 1-yard line and Jacksonville (7-8) recovered.

It seemed like a big deal at the time but on the ensuing Jags drive, head coach Jack Del Rio chose to go for it on fourth and 1 at their own 35-yard line. Maurice Jones-Drew (18 rushes, 63 yards) was stuffed by James Sanders and that was basically the game.

Moss gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead in the first quarter with a 2-yard touchdown catch. New England blitzed Jacksonville with 21 points in the second quarter-one of its best of the season. Forgotten man Chris Baker made a nice 26-yard touchdown catch, Sammy Morris (12 carries, 95 yards) scored on a 1-yard run and Moss caught a 6-yard TD.

Brandon Meriweather picked off Garrard in the first half and returned it 56 yards while Shawn Springs made his first play of the year, an interception in the red zone when New England was still preserving the shutout.

Moss' final score was a 17-yard catch and run where he dove near the end zone and stretched his arm and the ball over the line.

Garrard's two-yard run in the fourth quarter ended the shutout but by that time nobody cared.

Fred Taylor looked good in the fourth quarter, running for 35 yards on 11 carries. Kevin Faulk had 41 yards rushing while Maroney was on the bench for the rest of the game following his fumble.

Jerod Mayo had his best game of the season, making 15 total tackles, 11 solo.

Now the question is how much do you play Brady, Moss, Welker and other key players since next week at Houston doesn't mean much to the Patriots. They're locked in to the third or fourth seed but they will host a Wild Card game.

Bill Belichick hates to rest anybody so who knows how it'll play out. The AFC playoff scenarios are a mess which means there should be a lot of interesting games on the final day of the regular season.

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