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Patriots advance to AFC Championship with 31-20 win

The Jacksonville Jaguars proved they were big game ready but not quite ready to knock off the No. 1 seed Patriots.



]()It was the run-tough Jaguars against the pass-happy Patriots but in the end the Patriots out ran the Jags with Laurence Maroney's 22 carries and 122 yards while David Garrard was 22 of 33 passing for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns with a pick. That style of play was probably not what Jacksonville was looking for and in the end, it wasn't enough to keep pace with the Patriots scoring machine. After a 14-14 halftime tie, Jacksonville managed only six points in the second half to the Patriots 17.

New England advances to the AFC Championship with a 31-20 win.

While Garrard was exceeding expectations, Tom Brady was meeting his. Brady hit his first 16 passes and finished 26 of 28 for 278 yards and 3 touchdowns, two of them to Benjamin Watson. If not for a missed field goal, the Patriots would have scored on all of their possessions aside from a kneel down to end the first half. That type of efficiency was too much for the Jaguars to contend with.

In fact, Brady's completion percentage of over 92% set a new NFL record in that department for any game, postseason or regular season.

It was Jacksonville that scored first on the very first drive of the game. The run-first Jaguars showed they were willing to pass on the Patriots defense with Garrard tossing a 23-yarder to Marcedes Lewis and a huge 34 yard completion, again to Lewis, on a fourth and 1 play later in the drive. That play set up first and goal from the 9. As he was being tackled two plays later, Garrard managed to find Matt Jones in the end zone from eight yards out for the score.

The scoring play was nearly a sack to the point where Bill Belichick had his red challenge flag in his hand, contemplating throwing it. The Jags, got the extra point kick off before he made up his mind and Jacksonville had a seven-point lead.



]()It took Brady and his offense 10 plays to tie the game. The drive started out on a down note with John Henderson sacking Brady for a loss of 4 yards but on the next play, Laurence Maroney took a little dump off pass and turned it into a 33-yard gain. Later in the drive, New England converted a fourth and 5 from the Jags 40 with a 14-yard pass over the middle to Randy Moss. The scoring play was a 2-yard pass to Benjamin Watson who kept his focus on the ball while being blanketed by Sammy Knight.

Garrard got the ball back and hit Dennis Northcutt for 19 yards on second down to keep the pressure on the Patriots defense after Jacksonville's opening drive success. But on the next play it was Ty Warren applying the pressure to Garrard with a sack and a forced fumble. Mike Vrabel recovered and the Patriots had it back on the Jacksonville 29.

Brady worked Kevin Faulk on three straight plays to the 10 where Maroney took over for four straight. As the second quarter opened, it was Maroney with a 1-yard run for the score.

New England's lead lasted only as long as the Jags next drive. The 11-play drive was a lesson in physicality as the Jaguars offensive line took it to the Patriots front seven. Fred Taylor took most of the carries and he added his own punch to every run. Once down on the Patriots goal line, however, the scoring play was a 1-yard pass to Ernest Wilford with Asante Samuel in coverage.

New England had a chance to regain the lead with a score on their third consecutive possession but came up short. It was a conservative, methodical drive that started on the Patriots 19 until on the ninth play when Maroney took a handoff heading left at the Jags 34 and then handed it to Wes Welker for the reverse. The play was good for 13 yards down to the Jags 21.



]()What momentum the drive had hit a roadblock when Stephen Neal was called for a chop block two plays later. the 15-yard penalty set up a second and 23 from the Jags 34. Brady got 17 of those yards back with a handoff to Maroney for 9 yards and a pass to Welker over the middle for 8 but on fourth and 6, Stephen Gostkowski trotted on for a 35-yard field goal attempt which he missed to the right.

The only good news for New England was that by the time Jacksonville got the ball back there was less than a minute left in the first half. The Patriots defense held the Jaguars to three plays and actually got the ball back with nine seconds left but elected to take a knee, go to the locker room tied up and look forward to receiving the second half kickoff.

New England's patience was rewarded with an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive capped by a fake direct snap to Faulk while Brady mocked having the ball go over his head. The trickery gave him plenty of time to wait and find Welker for six from 6 yards out. The big plays of the drive were a 22-yard run by Maroney, a nice one-handed catch by Faulk on second and 10 from the 26 for 7 yards and a 13-yard catch by Jabbar Gaffney on the next play that set up the score.

The Patriots defense needed to keep Jacksonville out of the end zone and let the offense try and build a two-score margin. They managed to limit the Jags to three points but it wasn't easy. The Patriots pass defense was having trouble and on this drive Matt Jones was making the trouble with 11 and 29-yard receptions. The 29-yarder put the ball at the Patriots 20 but a false start penalty on Tony Pashos and a Vrabel knock down of a Garrard second and 11 attempt as Rodney Harrison applied pressure stopped the drive. Josh Scobee was good on his 39-yard field goal attempt to make the score 21-17 with 3:58 left in the third quarter.

Holding the Jaguars to three was a major swing. Brady got the ball back and had his team with an 11-point lead in 6 plays. Maroney had two runs, 29 and 11 yards while an earlier roughing the passer call on Derek Landri hurt the Jags defensive effort. On third and 4 from the 9, Brady had time and found Watson over the middle for the score.

Maroney's 11-yard run put him over the 100-yard mark (111 yards on 15 carries to that point), his first time doing so in the postseason.

The Jaguars came right back with another scoring drive but again it was for only three points. Actually, the Patriots were in good position early to stop Jacksonville on three plays but Garrard converted a third and 5 from his 12 with a 15-yard pass to Wilford. Another 15 yards were tacked on when Harrison hit Wilford on the ground and the drive had the jumpstart it was looking for. Fortunately for the Patriots, Garrard couldn't complete a pass from the 9-yard line with three tries and Scobee booted a 25-yard field goal to make the score 28-20.

Up to that point in the game Brady had not looked downfield the way he had throughout the 2007 season. After Maroney ran for a yard on the next play from scrimmage, he did. Brady was flushed out of the pocket to his right and lofted a perfect pass over Donte Stallworth's left shoulder that Stallworth hauled in with his right hand. Only a shoestring tackle by Rashean Mathis stopped Stallworth after 53 yards. Jacksonville's defense stiffened from there and Gostkowski kicked a 35-yard field goal to give the Patriots their 11-point lead back with 6:39 left to play.

What little chance Jacksonville had at that point was completely taken away when Harrison picked off Garrard on fourth and 6 from the Patriots 41. Earlier in the drive, Harrison was flagged for his second personal foul of the game when he rammed Northcutt out of bounds after an 8-yard completion. The interception was a great way for him to ease the frustration over what he thought was a bad call. It was also his seventh interception in seven postseason games, a Patriot record.

It also gave the Patriots the win as Brady and the offense managed to hold onto the ball for most of the remaining four-plus minutes. The Jags got the ball back after Chris Hanson's first punt of the game with only 22 seconds left and the Patriots were on their way to the AFC Championship game.

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