A perfect 10
Nearly flawless Patriots extend playoff run by dismantling Jaguars
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots were so un-Patriot-like for so much of the 2005 regular season that some took it as a sign their campaign could end early, maybe even in the first round of the playoffs.
The season and the chase for history were extended another week with an impressive 28-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last night before a rabid sellout throng of 68,756 at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots, seeking a record third consecutive Super Bowl title, won their record 10th straight postseason game, scoring 21 points in a span of about seven minutes that was capped by an Asante Samuel interception return for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
''How sweet it is," defensive end Richard Seymour said. ''We live to fight another day. That's the most important thing at this point. We played well as a team, obviously it wasn't our best performance, but it was enough to get the job done."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who improved to 11-1 in the postseason, the best playoff record in NFL history, said his squad put in a solid effort in all three phases of the game. The Patriots advance to the divisional round and will play next weekend on the road against either Indianapolis or Denver, both of whom beat New England in the regular season.
''If guys can continue to improve and continue to do the things coaches ask them to do -- do their job at a high level -- we can continue to get better," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. ''The result of that tonight was 28-3, and we're looking for more."
New England (11-6), which entered the playoffs having lost two more games this season than it had in the past two years combined, dominated the second half against the Jaguars, who ended the regular season 12-4 to earn their first playoff berth since 1998.
The game was even statistically in many respects, with the Patriots outgaining the Jaguars, 307 yards to 292. But the Patriots' defense provided the difference by holding the Jaguars to one third-down conversion in 12 attempts, forcing two turnovers, and scoring a touchdown.
''I think it was a great overall effort by the whole team," said linebacker Monty Beisel, who started for the injured Tedy Bruschi. ''They were big bodies and were going to come out there and try to pound us, but we matched them man-for-man in the first and second quarter, and got them out of what they wanted to do."
You couldn't have felt the Jaguars' angst any more if Aretha Franklin had sung the national anthem and Rodney Dangerfield was the PA announcer. Outside their locker room in Jacksonville, they posted newspaper articles that hinted the Patriots were not giving them their proper respect.
They could have earned that respect last night, but the Patriots would have none of it.
''We heard about all that stuff, but we just tried to focus on us and what we had to do and let everything else take care of itself," defensive lineman Ty Warren said. ''We played as a team, and got it done."
The Patriots got big plays from many corners.
Tom Brady tied a team postseason record with three TD passes. David Givens extended his streak of playoff games with a touchdown to six. Troy Brown had the second postseason touchdown catch of his 13-year career. Linebacker Willie McGinest had 4 1/2 sacks, and passed Bruce Smith as the NFL's all-time playoff sacks leader. And Samuel duped Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich into an interception that he returned 73 yards for a game-breaking score.
Tight end Benjamin Watson, playing in his first playoff game, factored in a couple of key plays -- one a mistake and the other a spectacular run, the biggest play of his two-year career.
On the first play, Watson couldn't withstand a hit and fumbled. On the second, he was standing (and running) after a hit, and another hit, and another hit, en route to the longest pass play in Patriots' playoff history.
The 63-yard catch-and-run late in the third quarter turned a game that was in doubt into a rout.
On third and 13, Watson pulled down a Brady offering for what should have been less than a 10-yard gain. Linebacker Mike Peterson took a shot at Watson and missed. Safety Deon Grant tried to grab him and came up empty. Gerald Sensabaugh tried to knock Watson out of bounds along the right sideline, and he, too, was left on the ground with Watson still upright.
The speedy tight end then outran Bobby McCray and Kenny Wright to the end zone for a 21-3 Patriots lead with 3:19 left in the third, and you could almost see the air leave the young Jaguars.
''That was big, a huge play in the game," Belichick said.
What breath of a chance the Jaguars had left dissipated a few minutes later, just after the fourth quarter began, as Samuel raced down the right sideline with an interception for the final points of the game.
After struggling to move the ball in the first half, the Patriots got creative in the third quarter, pulling a trick out of their playbook. With Brady in the shotgun on second and 10, Kevin Faulk took a direct snap and handed off to Andre' Davis, who scooted around left end for 13 yards.
Two plays later, Davis made an even more important pickup, grabbing a fumble inside the Jaguars' 5-yard line to keep the drive alive. Watson made a catch for an 8-yard gain, but lost the ball after being hit by Peterson. An alert Davis picked it up at the 3.
''That was a heady play there," Belichick said.
On the next play, Brady connected with Givens in the back of the end zone to give New England a 14-3 lead.
Jerome Solomon can be reached at email@example.com