JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tom Brady and the playoff-bound Patriots settled down in time to beat the woeful Jaguars.
Brady overcame a rough start by throwing two touchdown passes, and New England held on for a 23-16 win Sunday.
Brady had two interceptions in the first quarter, the second one helping the Jaguars (2-13) build a 10-0 lead.
But the Jaguars faded in the third quarter for the fourth consecutive week, lost for the 11th time in the last 12 games and set a franchise record for losses in a season.
Brady had a lot to do with the home team’s latest setback, finding his rhythm after a sluggish start and picking apart Jacksonville’s defense.
He hooked up with Wes Welker for a 2-yard score on the second play of the fourth quarter, putting the Patriots (11-4) ahead 23-13 – what seemed like plenty of cushion against the offensively challenged Jaguars.
But Jacksonville had two chances to tie things in the closing minutes.
Trailing by a touchdown, they were facing third-and-goal at the 1 when tight end Zach Potter jumped before the snap. So the short-yardage situation became a passing play, and Chad Henne was sacked, leaving Jacksonville with a fourth-and-goal play at the 10.
Chandler Jones hit Henne as he tried to throw, and Patrick Chung intercepted the floater over the middle.
The Patriots, though, couldn’t run out the clock, and the Jaguars had the ball near midfield with less than a minute to play. Henne connected with Toney Clemons on fourth down with 22 seconds remaining, then found Jordan Shipley for an 18-yard gain that put them at the New England 12. But Chung intercepted Henne’s final pass, essentially a jump ball to the middle of the end zone.
New England, coming off a 41-34 home loss to San Francisco, avoided consecutive losses in December for the first time since 2002.
Brady completed 24 of 41 passes for 267 yards, his worst outing in six games against Jacksonville. Welker caught 10 passes for 88 yards. Stevan Ridley ran 18 times for 84 yards.
Brady entered the game having thrown for 1,207 yards, with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions, in five wins against the Jaguars. His string of success ended with his first pass, though.
Ridley tipped the ball down the sideline, and safety Chris Prosinski picked it off for his first interception of the season. Jacksonville moved the ball, but settled for a field goal.
And that was the story of the day for coach Mike Mularkey’s team.
The Jaguars had the ball inside New England’s 25-yard line seven times, but came away with a touchdown and three field goals.
And settling for field goals against the league’s most prolific offense is hardly a formula for success.
Henne completed 29 of 51 passes for 348 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions. His 3-yard TD pass to Justin Blackmon to open the game was Jacksonville’s first touchdown on its opening possession since Oct. 9, 2011, against Cincinnati.
But the ending is all that matters for Jacksonville, which finished 1-7 at home and left owner Shad Khan with decisions to make about Mularkey and general manager Gene Smith.