JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)—The New England Patriots left Jacksonville with more championship shirts and hats.
It wasn’t the Super Bowl kind, but they’ll gladly wear them—at least for now.
Tom Brady directed three long touchdown drives, capped one of them with a perfect touch pass to David Thomas, and helped the Patriots clinch their fourth consecutive AFC East crown with a 24-21 victory against the Jaguars on a rainy Sunday.
They did it on the same field they won their last Super Bowl, in January 2005.
“We’ve accomplished something now,” said linebacker Tedy Bruschi while he donned a championship hat and T-shirt. “It’s our first goal. We can look at it as a positive for the next couple of days. The first thing you have to do is to win the division and then go from there.”
Brady was brilliant in both games at Alltel Stadium.
He was 23-of-33 for 236 yards and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl victory against Philadelphia. He was even better against the Jaguars (8-7).
He finished 28-of-39 for 249 yards and a touchdown, completing passes to 10 receivers and picking apart the NFL’s second-ranked defense mostly with short and quick throws. He also ran 10 times for 31 yards, getting several first downs on sneaks and scrambling for yards to avoid sacks.
“He’s a great leader,” offensive tackle Matt Light said. “He went out there and did what he always does. Whenever we needed a big play he’s always out there making them.”
Brady and the Patriots (11-4) also crippled Jacksonville’s postseason chances. The Jaguars, who have lost two in a row, need to win at Kansas City next week and get lots of help to earn a wild-card spot.
“We had two weeks with the chance to handle it ourselves and we didn’t get it done,” defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. “If we get into the playoffs, so be it. If we don’t, we can’t blame nobody but ourselves.”
The Jaguars made the playoffs last season, but promptly lost 28-3 at New England. That game was decided early in the second half when the Pats scored 21 unanswered points.
New England put Jacksonville away much later Sunday.
Laurence Maroney, who missed the last two games with torn rib cartilage, had a 27-yard touchdown run with 4:36 remaining to put the Patriots ahead 24-14.
But Jacksonville answered when David Garrard hooked up with Matt Jones for a 33-yard score about a minute later. The defense then forced its first three-and-out, giving the offense the ball near midfield with 1:55 to play. Garrard, though, scrambled out of the pocket and fumbled after getting hit by Jarvis Green.
Rodney Harrison, back after missing six weeks with a broken shoulder blade, recovered to seal the victory.
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio thought Garrard’s arm was moving forward and it should have been an incomplete pass. Officials reviewed the play and upheld the call.
“For the most part I played pretty decent, but to have the last drive come out the way it did, it hurts,” said Garrard, who now has nine turnovers in the team’s last four losses, including three that got returned for touchdowns last week at Tennessee. “I have to do a better job of not having the turnovers.”
Or maybe watch and learn from Brady.
Throwing often because of Jacksonville’s stout run defense, Brady engineered a 78-yard to open the second half. He was 4-for-5 for 68 yards and his best throw was his last, a 22-yarder over the middle that Thomas caught as he dived across the goal line, making it 17-7.
He was even better on the 68-yard drive that ended with Maroney’s run. He completed both passes and picked up a first down with a 7-yard scramble on third down.
“We’ve been successful down here twice and it’s good to get a win,” Brady said.
The Jaguars scored all three times with the help of big plays.
Maurice Drew, starting in place of Fred Taylor (hamstring), had a 74-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that put the Jaguars ahead 7-3. Drew ran into the back of tight end Kyle Brady and fell to the ground. No Patriot touched Drew down, so the 5-foot-7 rookie quickly popped up, broke a tackle by Harrison and scampered for the long touchdown. Patriots coach Bill Belichick challenged, but officials ruled Drew had not been touched.
“I was sure. That’s why I got up and kept going,” said Drew, who finished with 131 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving. “There’s a lot of energy wasted if you get up and run if you’re already touched.”
Drew scored again in the third quarter, a 1-yard plunge that made it 17-14. He now has 15 touchdowns. His second score followed a 41-yard completion from Garrard to Ernest Wilford deep down the sideline.
But it wasn’t enough.
“Any loss is tough,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We controlled our own destiny, and being as good of a team as we are, we might not get a chance to experience the playoffs this year. It’s rough.”