FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady’s recent statistics had been mediocre. Randy Moss’s effort was questioned. The New England Patriots were unimpressive even in their victories.
All that changed Sunday.
Brady threw four touchdown passes and only three incompletions, Moss scored on three of his receptions, and the Patriots played what Brady called “one of our best 60 minutes that we played all year” in a 35-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Patriots clinched the AFC East title for the sixth time in seven years and completed a perfect 8-0 home schedule. Suddenly, it looks like the doubters who sprung from the Patriots’ 1-3 slide followed by two close wins over non-playoff teams were wrong.
“We didn’t really pay attention to any of that, any sort of that outside noise,” said NFL receptions leader Wes Welker, who had 13 catches for 138 yards. “We knew what we had to do in this (locker) room, which was taking care of business on a day-to-day basis.”
And now the Patriots (10-5) are competing with Cincinnati for the No. 3 seed in the AFC. The Patriots, 1-5 in other teams’ stadiums, end their regular season at Houston on Sunday. They were officially the road team in a win over Tampa Bay in London.
“Regardless of stats, regardless of everything, getting the (AFC East championship) hat and T-shirt is what we’re out here for,” said Sammy Morris, whose 55-yard run set up his 1-yard touchdown as the Patriots took a 21-0 lead with 5:04 left in the second quarter.
The Jaguars (7-8) still have a slim chance at an AFC wild-card berth, but they need help from a lot of other teams in Sunday’s final weekend of the regular season after losing their third straight game.
“We were in the front seat for the playoffs and we just fell apart,” said Maurice Jones-Drew, who was held to 63 yards rushing. “I don’t understand how we as players can do that.”
The Patriots, meanwhile, are making a late-season run.
They’ve outscored their past three opponents 72-27. Moss has four touchdowns in the two games since Carolina players said he didn’t play hard in a 20-10 Patriots win. And Brady completed 23 of 26 passes for 267 yards against the NFL’s sixth-worst passing defense after throwing for a total of just 307 yards in his previous two games.
“It’s the time of year where we really need to start playing good football,” Brady said.
Laurence Maroney lost a fumble on the Jaguars 1-yard line on the first series of the game, but the Patriots scored touchdowns on five of their next six — passes of 2 yards to Moss and 26 to Chris Baker, the 1-yard run by Morris and passes of 6 and 17 yards to Moss.
After the last one, Moss looked up at the scoreboard and saw a fan wearing a Randy Moss mask on the screen. Moss smiled and laughed as the picture kept shifting between him and the fan.
“That was very entertaining,” said Moss, who has sold the mask on his Web site. “I had a lot of my teammates wanting me to mess with the guy. So he put a little humor into it and I enjoyed it.”
There was little for the Jaguars to enjoy in a game in which they allowed 197 yards rushing and failed to add to their league-low 14 sacks.
“It was embarrassing,” safety Sean Considine said. “When a playoff spot is on the line, and the opportunity is in front of you, it’s hard to believe we got physically handled like that.”
Trailing 35-0, Jacksonville finally scored with 12:41 left on a 2-yard keeper by David Garrard. By then, he had thrown two interceptions that led to Patriots touchdowns. He took every offensive snap despite bruising his knee in the first half.
“He played banged up. He was pretty accurate,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “Blame me. Blame the coaching staff. Don’t just blame the quarterback.”
Blame the pass defense, too, that couldn’t stop Welker. He broke his own team record with 122 catches after getting 112 and 111 in his other two seasons with New England.
“I knew my numbers would probably go up just having Tom and the type of offense we’re in,” he said, “but I never knew it would be like this.”<
Notes: Garrard completed 19 of 25 passes for 185 yards. … Maroney didn’t carry the ball after his fumble. … Brady has 28 touchdown passes, the fifth season in which he’s thrown at least 25, tying Drew Brees for fifth in NFL history. Peyton Manning is first with 12 seasons.