- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 23-16 victory over the Jaguars at EverBank Field:
What it means. The Patriots’ hopes for a first-round playoff bye are still alive, a result of their harder-than-anticipated victory over the Jaguars and the Texans losing at home to the Vikings. The Patriots (11-4) finish at home against the Dolphins on Sunday, while the Texans (12-3) visit the Colts next week. The Broncos have remaining games against the Browns and Chiefs.
Looked like an emotional letdown. After ultra-hyped games against the Texans and 49ers, the Patriots looked like they weren’t ready to play against the 2-12 Jaguars. On the opening drive of the game, it seemed like the teams switched uniforms, as the Jaguars carved up the Patriots with ease in driving 78 yards on nine plays, a march that ended with a 3-yard Justin Blackmon touchdown catch. The Patriots trailed 10-0 at one point before closing to 13-13 at the half and ultimately holding on. It wasn’t the type of clean, efficient performance the Patriots wanted to put forth after a sloppy loss to the 49ers. Few thought this game would come down to the final possession.
Not one of Brady’s best. On a day when quarterback Tom Brady matched Johnny Unitas’ former record of 47 straight games with at least one touchdown pass, the Patriots’ captain and signal-caller didn’t play his best game. His first-quarter interception to running back Stevan Ridley up the left sideline was underthrown, and there also were some miscommunications with receiver Brandon Lloyd. Brady was under more pressure than expected, which contributed to the shaky day. Too many big hits on Brady.
Ridley not in the doghouse. One of the big pregame storylines was whether Ridley might land in the “doghouse” after fumbles against the Texans and 49ers in each of the previous two games. That didn’t happen, as Ridley started and played 35 total snaps in the game.
Rotating personnel approach on D; unit finds its groove after rocky start. One notable aspect of the game for the Patriots was Bill Belichick going deeper into his bench earlier than usual. It was almost as if Belichick was making sure players who could be counted on in the playoffs were kept sharp, while some banged-up players were managed. Starting left cornerback Aqib Talib (hip injury) played sparingly. The defense started slow before finding more of a groove.
Patriots help sell tickets. The announced ticket distribution of 70,251 at EverBank Field was the highest total for the Jaguars since Dec. 5, 2004 against the Steelers. That figure reflects a strong Patriots contingent on hand.
What’s next. The Patriots return home for the regular-season finale against the visiting Dolphins on Sunday. The Jaguars visit the Titans in their finale on Sunday.