Patriots

Patriots escape with 23-16 victory over Jaguars

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Patriots escape with 23-16 victory over Jaguars

Luckily for the Patriots, style points don't count in the National Football League.

Because what everyone anticipated would be one of the biggest routs of the season -- the 10-4 Patriots, coming off a disappointing loss, against the 2-12 Jaguars, playing out the string -- was anything but. It wound up being a close-as-can-be nailbiter, which wasn't decided until Patrick Chung made his second end-zone interception as time expired.

Summary and statistics

When he did, the Pats -- thanks to a fourth-quarter goal-line stand earlier in the fourth quarter that stopped Jacksonville a yard short of tying the score -- escaped with an important 23-16 victory. And important it was, as it kept alive their hopes for a first-round bye.

The Texans' home loss to the Vikings dropped their record to 12-3 as the Patriots were improving to 11-4. If New England wins at home next weekend against Miami and Houston loses at Indianapolis, the Pats will move ahead of the Texans into one of the top two spots in the AFC playoff field.

But there was no all's-well-that-ends-well feeling with at least some of the Patriots.

"That was a bad 60 minutes of football," said a morose Tom Brady (24-of-41, 267 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions) during a brief, minute-and-a-half meeting with the media. "We got outcompeted out there, outfought. We were lucky to win."

"We keep playing like that, we won't last much longer," said special-teams captain Matthew Slater.

The tone was set right at the beginning, as the Jaguars took the opening kickoff and, with seemingly minimal effort, sliced through the Patriots on a 9-play, 78-yard, 5 12-minute drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne and Justin Blackmon. Brady then threw the first of his two picks, to Chris Prosinski, and that set up a 41-yard field goal by Josh Scobee and a 10-0 Jacksonville lead.

"I don't know if we were flat or what," said Vince Wilfork, "but . . . we weren't ready to go right away."

"They gave us a little bit of a different approach offensively" at the beginning of the game, said coach Bill Belichick. The Jags spread the Pats out and used wider splits to create more running lanes

"They did a good job of starting the game off with a little different style," said Belichick. "They really got the advantage on us . . . "

The Pats finally got untracked on their second drive, moving from their 20 to the Jacksonville 7 before stalling and settling for a 25-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. But the Jaguars resumed firing on their next possession, reaching the Pats' 25. They came up empty when Scobee missed a 43-yard field goal, yet managed to make it 13-3 minutes later when Scobee drilled a 35-yard field goal after Derek Cox picked off Brady.

After that, however, Jacksonville failed to score on its next possessions.

"We made some adjustments," said Belichick, later saying, "I think eventually we settled down and handled" what the Jaguars were doing.

As they did, Brady and the offense ran off 20 consecutive points -- a 49-yard field goal by Gostkowski with 5:29 to play in the second quarter that made it 13-6; a 14-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Danny Woodhead with 18 seconds to go in the half, tying the score; a 38-yard field goal by Gostkowski with 11:44 left in the third quarter, which put the Pats in front for the first time in the game, and a two-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Wes Welker on the second play of the fourth quarter -- as they built a 23-13 lead.

But just when it seemed that order was being restored, back came the Jaguars.

"We kept this ballgame a ballgame for 60 minutes," said a rueful Wilfork. "We're a lot better than what we showed today. We definitely are."

Jacksonville pulled to 23-16 on a 42-yard field goal by Scobee with 8:42 left. And after the Pats went three-and-out, Henne moved the Jags from their 34 to the Pats' 1, putting them right on the brink of tying the game.

That, however, was where the New England defense saved the day. First they stuffed Greg Jones on a second-and-goal from the 1 for no gain. After a false-start penalty on Zack Potter pushed the ball back to the 5, Dont'e Hightower sacked Henne for a five-yard loss back to the 10. The Jags went for it on fourth down with slightly more than four minutes to play, and Chung picked off a pass intended for Cecil Shorts in the end zone, preserving the lead . . . for the moment.

The offense, despite managing to earn one first down, was unable to maintain possession and close things out. The Pats had to punt and the Jaguars got the ball back on their own 38 with 54 seconds left and no tine outs.

A helmet-to-helmet hit by Chung on Shorts on the first play earned a 15-yard penalty and got Jacksonville into New England territory, at the 47. After three straight incomplete passes, Henne connected with Toney Clemons on a 17-yard, fourth-down pass that put the ball on the 30 with 39 seconds left. Two plays later, an 18-yard pass from Henne to Jordan Shipley put the ball on the 12, where the Jags had two shots at the end zone with eight seconds left.

On the first, Henne missed Clemons over the middle. And on the second, Henne released a floating pass to the end zone that was nabbed by Chung, ending the game.

(To make things even more interesting, Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey said he would have gone for the game-winning -- or game-losing -- two-point conversion had the Jaguars scored, instead of settled for the normal PAT and overtime.)

But there was no jubilation or relief in the ranks when it was over.

"We're lucky to get out of here with a win," said Stevan Ridley, who led the ground game with 84 yards in 18 carries. "That's the bottom line."

Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

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Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

If your team makes a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter, but you can't see it on the All-22 tape, did it even happen? 

Bill Belichick said the fog that hovered above the Gillette Stadium turf on Sunday night didn't impact the play on the field, but it did make its imprint on the game in other ways. First of all, spotters and coaches up at the press level had some difficulty relaying information to coaches on the sidelines. Video on the hand-held tablets for sideline use -- as well as the old-school still-frame pictures Belichick prefers -- was also obstructed. 

Then on Monday, as coaches tried to digest the film, the fog butted in on the process again. 

"It affected us a lot this morning because it’s hard to see the game," Belichick said during a conference call. "The fourth quarter is – I don’t know – pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film. The sideline cameras are at the top of the stadium, so that’s a tough shot.

"The end zone cameras are a little bit lower and they get a little tighter shot, so the picture is a little bit clearer. But, on that shot, a lot of times you’re not able to see all the guys on the perimeter. It’s kind of an in-line shot.

"Yeah, the first half, start of the third quarter, it’s all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it’s a little strained to see it, and then there’s a point where you can’t really see it at all, especially from the sideline. So, yeah, it affected us."

Belichick re-iterated that the fog didn't do much to the product on the field (other than maybe making life difficult for kick and punt-returners), refuting Julio Jones' claim from late Sunday night. When it came to digesting the film, though, that was another story.

"It was more, I’d say, just tougher for, whether it be our video camera or the fans that were sitting in the upper deck. It’s just there was too much interference there," Belichick said. "It was probably hard to see the game. I know when we tried to look at the pictures in between series – you know, I don’t look at the tablets, so I won’t get into that – but the pictures, it was kind of the same thing. It was hard to really be able to make out exactly what you were seeing."

Marcus Morris targeting Oct. 30 game vs. Spurs as date for Celtics debut

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Marcus Morris targeting Oct. 30 game vs. Spurs as date for Celtics debut

WALTHAM -- It appears Marcus Morris’ debut for the Celtics will be when they host the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 30.
 
The 6-foot-9 forward confirmed to reporters on Monday that, for now, that’s the target date.
 
Morris spent time after practice playing some one-one-one against rookie Jayson Tatum.
 
“I’m trying to push on it a little more,” he said. “Felt pretty good beating the rook’s ass one-on-one.”
 
The addition of Morris to the lineup can’t come soon enough for the Celtics (1-2).  They have already lost Gordon Hayward (ankle) for the season, and Marcus Smart (ankle) missed Friday’s win over Philadelphia. Smart said he would probably be in uniform for Tuesday’s game against the New York Knicks. 
 
Those injuries have forced the Celtics to dig deeper into their roster, resulting in several first-year players seeing action. 
 
Having a veteran like Morris on the floor would bode well for the Celts in their quest to remain among the better teams in the East this season. 
 
Morris, who went through the non-contact portion of practice on Monday, joined the Celtics on Oct. 5, shortly after he and his brother Markieff (who plays for Washington) were acquitted of assault charges involving an incident in Phoenix in January of 2015. He appeared in one preseason game, scoring seven points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field.

Coach Brad Stevens said Morris was having some knee discomfort when he showed up for training camp. That, combined with showing up late to training camp because of his court case in Phoenix, resulted in him not having the level of conditioning he’s used to at the start of training camp. 
 
“It’s not that I’m in bad shape,” he told NBC Sports Boston earlier. “It’s just that I’m not where I expect myself to be conditioning-wise, right now.”
 
Morris echoed similar sentiments on Monday. 
 
“I’m in great condition,” he said. “I just want to be a little better. My conditioning has never been the problem. It’s the soreness in my [left] knee. It’s gotten a lot better over the past 10 days, so I feel I can play now. But be cautious because it’s a long season.”
 
Morris was acquired in the summer by Boston from Detroit, in exchange for Avery Bradley. The move was done to not only ensure there was enough salary cap space to sign then-free agent Gordon Hayward, but also for the Celtics to add a versatile player who can play both forward positions.