JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tom Brady overcame two interceptions and three sacks and safety Patrick Chung picked off Chad Henne twice in the final minutes to preserve New England’s 23-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at EverBank Field.
The game was in doubt until the Patriots held off the Jaguars on two possessions in New England territory in the last four minutes. Both ended on Chung interceptions, aided by a heavy pass rush on Henne.
The Jags had a first-and-goal from the 6 and then gained five yards in two plays with 4:06 left. However, tight end Zach Potter jumped offside on third-and-goal from the 1, linebacker Dont’a Hightower sacked quarterback Chad Henne and on a fourth-and-goal from the 10, Henne was intercepted by Chung at the 1 after being hit by Chandler Jones.
Jacksonville (2-13) forced a punt and Henne hurried the Jaguars from their own 38 to the New England 12 in 51 seconds. With time for two more plays with eight seconds left Henne (29-of-49, 348 yards) overthrew Toney Clemson and was then picked off again by Chung when he had to hurry a high throw into the end zone under pressure from Rob Ninkovich.
“They were dropping eight people so there were going to be tight windows,” said Henne of his two late interceptions. “They did a good job. They covered us up.”
Brady (24-of-41, 267 yards) is now 6-0 in his career against the Jaguars. He threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead on the Patriots’ last offensive play of the first half, then flipped a 2-yard scoring pass to Wes Welker on the first play of the fourth quarter to rally from a 13-3 second-quarter deficit and give the Patriots (12-4) a 23-13 lead.
New England, which had already clinched the AFC East and playing without three starters, is now 6-0 lifetime against the Jags in the regular season and 9-1 counting playoffs.
Coming off the loss to San Francisco last week, a game against wild-card contender Miami to close the regular season next week and unlikely to clinch a playoff bye, some of the team leaders for the Patriots said soul-searching is in order.
“This is two weeks in a row … you get very concerned when you don’t play well and it was very evident by the way we performed,” said Brady. “We couldn’t make any plays and they made plenty of them. We were lucky to be in it at halftime.”
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork praised the Jaguars but also said a performance such as Sunday won’t get the Patriots far in the playoffs.
“They sure didn’t play like a team that has won only two games,” he said. “It was a dogfight from start to finish. Going forward, we’ll be lucky if we win a ballgame. It just wasn’t good enough. Even though we won, a lot of things we did won’t cut it. From here on out, we will have to earn everything we get.”
The Jaguars, going nowhere but a top-three selection in the 2013 draft, got the team’s first interceptions ever against Brady, weathered New England’s comeback and got within one score in the fourth quarter on Josh Scobee’s third field goal of the game.
“I am very disappointed for our team … I am very, very, very, very proud of this football team,” said Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey. “Fifteenth game, they were playing for a (playoff) bye, we were playing for respect. Our guys, every one of them, showed up today to win that game.”
The Jaguars stunned the Patriots from the beginning, going on a nine-play, 78-yard drive to start the game, capped by a 3-yard TD pass from Henne to Justin Blackmon. Henne completed 5-of-6 passes for 44 yards on the drive.
On the third play after the kickoff, Brady laid a soft pass down the sideline within the reach of running back Stevan Ridley. The ball glance off Ridley’s hands, was tipped by linebacker Russell Allen and snared by safety Chris Prosinski near midfield.
The Jaguars got a first down to the Patriots’ 29 but had to settle for Scobee’s 41-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Marching downfield in a no-huddle offense, Brady led the Patriots to a first-and-goal at the Jaguars’ 9, highlighted by a 32-yard completion to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. But the Jaguars’ defense held and the best the Patriots got was a chip-shot field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
An interception by Jaguars’ cornerback Derek Cox later set up a 35-yard field goal by Scobee for a 13-3 lead but the Patriots had the last word in the first half when Gostkowski boomed a 49-yard field goal and Brady led a late drive that ended in the TD pass to Woodhead with 23 seconds remaining and a 13-13 halftime tie.
Notes: The Patriots were without three starters, tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebacker Brandon Spikes and rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. They were all downgraded to out before the game. Gronkowski is still trying to recover from a broken forearm in November, Spikes has an injured knee from two weeks ago that limited him against San Franciso last week and Dennard hurt his knee in the 49ers game. … The other inactives for the Patriots were running back James Develin, offensive lineman Markus Zusevics, defensive end Jake Bequette and defensive tackle Ron Brace. … The Jaguars once again were without their two leading rushers, Maurice-Jones Drew and Rashad Jennings. Also inactive were cornerback Antwaun Molden, linebacker Brandon Marshall, running back Jonathan Grimes, offensive tackle Eben Britton and defensive end Austen Lane. … Brady’s first-quarter interception was the first in his career against the Jaguars in four regular-season and two playoff games, covering 155 attempts. Brady entered the game with a .737 completion percentage and 118.41 passer rating against the Jaguars during the regular season. In two playoff meetings (2005 and 2008), Brady has completed .745 of his attempts and has a passer rating of 135.64. … The Jaguars removed all but one of the tarps they have used for years to hold down the overall capacity of Everbank Field in anticipation of a strong turnout of New England fans from the North and North-Central areas of Florida and Jaguars fans wanting to see the final home game of a long season. The result was a season-high 70,251 tickets distributed.