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The Patriots look to wrap up the AFC East and put a damper on the Jaguars’ playoff hopes when the teams meet Sunday in Jacksonville.
New England (10-4) can clinch its fourth straight division title with either a win or a tie on Sunday or a New York Jets loss or tie on Monday in their game against Miami. The Patriots own the fourth-best record in the AFC and have won four of their last five, including a 40-7 victory over Houston last Sunday.
“We’re playing for a championship now,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “Everybody knows what we’re playing for. We’ll see how everybody responds.”
The Jaguars, on the other hand, are among four AFC teams with an 8-6 record while four other clubs own 7-7 marks. They will likely have to beat the Patriots and win their season finale at Kansas City in order to reach the postseason.
Jacksonville’s 24-17 loss at Tennessee last Sunday allowed Indianapolis to clinch the AFC South.
“We’re promised two more weeks. If we get enough done in the next two weeks, then we will have earned it,” coach Jack Del Rio told the Jaguars’ official Web site. “We’re not going to walk out of here with our heads hanging.”
The Patriots bounced back from a disappointing 21-0 loss at Miami with last Sunday’s win over the Texans. After committing 19 turnovers in its previous six games, going 3-3 over that span, New England did not cough up the ball once against Houston.
“That was our main goal today. We would not cost ourselves the game,” said Ellis Hobbs, who had an interception and returned a kick 93 yards for a touchdown. “They would have to beat us today. Anytime we can get to situations where we have to make them beat us, it is very hard to beat us on those days.”
The Patriots had four interceptions, sacked Houston’s David Carr four times and held the Texans to 198 total yards. New England’s defense ranks fourth in the NFL with 31 takeaways and sixth with 287.8 yards allowed per game.
“Sometimes you get turnovers, but they’re on the negative end of the field and the offense still has 80 yards or 70 yards to go, but we put them on a short field today,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi told the Patriots’ Web site. “That’s what we’ve been talking about for the last couple weeks. That’s our job: Get turnovers and make it easier on our offense.”
Kevin Faulk had one rushing and one receiving touchdown last week, but was limping with an apparent right leg injury after the game. Running back Laurence Maroney missed his second straight game with torn rib cartilage, and if both he and Faulk are out, the Patriots would be left with just Corey Dillon and Heath Evans at running back.
“We’re not even barely 24 hours after the game,” coach Bill Belichick said on Monday, “so we’ll see how everybody’s doing and, as always, we’ll make the decisions that we feel are the best for our football team.”
New England’s defense is hoping for another big day when it faces Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard, who threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball once in last week’s loss to Tennessee. The Titans, who also sacked Garrard four times, returned the fumble and two of the picks for touchdowns.
“I have never been a part of a day quite like this; I don’t even know if I have seen a day quite like this …,” Garrard said. “It is upsetting, and I definitely have a horrible taste in my mouth.”
Garrard’s miscues overshadowed his 233 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and touchdown pass to Matt Jones. He has completed 59 percent of his passes with eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions in eight starts this season.
“He did some things that were very exciting,” Del Rio said. “He made some special plays, then he had some real crucial, critical mistake-type plays that we can’t have.”
The Jaguars outgained the Titans 396-98 and the defense improved its average to 270.3 yards allowed per game, good for second in the NFL behind Baltimore. The offense, meanwhile, set a franchise record for time of possession, holding the ball for 44:22.
Jacksonville ran the ball for 202 yards despite losing Fred Taylor to a strained right hamstring on his second carry. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 98 yards and a touchdown, but left in the fourth quarter with a jammed knee.
Drew will play Sunday, but Taylor was ruled out on Friday after missing three days of practice this week. Taylor has 1,120 yards rushing and five touchdowns, while Drew has 764 yards on the ground, 379 yards receiving, 718 return yards and 13 total touchdowns.
“I think that it’s the smart thing to do at this point,” Taylor said. “For my future, my well being … I don’t want to rip it. I don’t want to tear it. I have all the faith and confidence in my team to get this win on Sunday.”
New England has won all three regular-season meetings between these teams and two of three matchups in the playoffs. The Patriots beat the Jaguars 28-3 at home in the first round of the playoffs last Jan. 7 behind three touchdown passes from Brady.
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