While the Patriots looked the better team throughout most of this contest, a desperate Jaguars team made things close in the end. It took a fumble recovery by Rodney Harrison, who returned to action from his injury earlier this season, to seal the win late in the fourth quarter.
Tom Brady spread the ball all over the field and to 10 different receivers en route to 249 yards passing on 39 attempts and 28 completions. His main target was Dave Thomas who had a career day with 5 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
For the most part, New England's defense kept David Garrard and the Jags offense under wraps. One big play by Maurice Jones-Drew accounted for 74 yards of Jacksonville's 145 yards rushing. And most of Garrard's 195 yards passing came late in the game while in catch-up mode.
It was a huge win for New England, on the road against a quality opponent.
The teams were scoreless through the first quarter but as it ended, it was New England threatening to break the tie.
The drive started on the 31 where Brady scrambled for 4 yards on first down and then handed off to Corey Dillon who ran through a hole behind the left side for 8. Later in the drive, John Henderson was flagged for grabbing Laurence Maroney's facemask, giving the Patriots first and 10 at the Jags 35. The first quarter ended with a 6-yard completion to Thomas, in the game for the injured Ben Watson, down to the 29.
Two plays later, a third and 1 attempt from the Jaguars 26 by Heath Evans was stuffed for no gain. On fourth down, Brady kept -- he was already successful twice in the game converting first downs that way -- but was flagged for a false start. That forced Stephen Gostkowski on the field for a 48-yard field goal attempt which he made despite a low snap that Matt Cassel had to react quickly to adjust.
The 3-0 lead was extremely short-lived. On the very next play from scrimmage, Garrard gave to Jones-Drew who bounced off his own lineman and fell to the ground untouched by a Patriot. By the time Tully Banta-Cain touched him, he was already back on his feet and on his way to a 74-yard touchdown right up the middle of the Patriots defense. The play was challenged by the Patriots but the score was upheld.
New England regained the lead with a clock-consuming, 14-play drive that ended with a 1-yard Dillon dive for the score. Throughout the drive, Brady never even considered looking downfield, spreading things out and content to take whatever the Jaguars defense was giving him underneath. By the end of the series, Brady had already hit eight different receivers on only 14 completions in the game. He had also gained 24 yards on 5 runs, another sign that there was space to be had behind the Jags defensive line.
The half ended with the 10-7 Patriots lead intact and with the Patriots holding and advantage when it came to moving the ball on offense (Patriots had 13 first downs to the Jags 4), despite the one big play by Jones-Drew.
That trend continued as New England took the second half kickoff and moved right down the field to make the score 17-7. On this drive the story was Thomas who took one pass in the left flat and rumbled for 36 yards down the sideline to the Jags 27. From the 22, Brady looked his way again and threaded a nice pass in between several Jacksonville defenders that Thomas made a beautiful diving catch in snaring the touchdown. The drive went 78 yards in only 7 plays.
The Jaguars bench challenged the play, thinking the ball might have hit the ground before Thomas had possession but replay only showed how good a catch in fact it was.
Jacksonville tried to answer with a 53-yard field goal but Josh Scobee's attempt was wide right.
The miss gave the Patriots first and 10 at their own 43. Brady's first play turned into yet another scramble, this one for 3 yards giving him 27 up to that point, the most rushing yards in a game for his career. He then went back to more conventional means of moving the ball by hitting a wide open Daniel Graham for 19 yards and then Reche Caldwell for 7 along the right sideline. The drive stalled from there with Brady misfiring on a third and 6 play. Gostkowski was off the mark on a 49-yard field goal attempt on which he had plenty of leg.
It turned out to be a big miss as Jacksonville took over at their own 39. Two plays later, Richard Seymour wished he missed. On second and 7, he tried to hold up on a hit on Garrard as Garrard released but couldn't. The roughing call was made and worse yet, it negated a Mike Vrabel interception. On the next play, Ernest Wilford got behind the Patriots defense and Garrard connected for a 41-yard gain. Jones-Drew took it in from the 1 two plays later.
The turn of events resulted in a 3-point game and with New England needing a score to stem the Jag's momentum.
As the third quarter came to and end, Brady had his team on the Jaguars side of the field. Thomas had come up big again with a 16-yard catch down the middle on second and 16. By the start of the fourth, the Patriots were third and 3 on the Jags 43. A quick pass to rarely-used Chad Jackson netted a 2-yard loss, however, and New England punted.
Todd Sauerbrun's punt was a good one, downed on the 10-yard line.
Now the Patriots needed a stop and that's exactly what the defense gave then, stuffing Jones-Drew on a third and 2 from his 30.
With 10:29 left to play, New England got the ball back at its 31 after the punt but all Brady could do was complete one 12-yard pass to Jabar Gaffney in four attempts. Jacksonville got the ball right back on its 18-yard line.
The punting match continued; again New England held, this time after only three plays by Jacksonville.
Finally, the Patriots broke through but along the way all of Patriots Nation held its breath.
Early on in the Patriots next drive, Brady ran on third and 6 in an attempt to keep the chains moving. He picked up the first down after 7 yards but was nailed in the back by Clint Ingram on the way down. The hit knocked Brady out of the game, but for only one play. After Cassel handed off to Dillon, Brady came back on the field and immediately showed his toughness and spunk, connecting with Graham for 18 yards and then jawing with the Jaguars sideline after the play. Three plays later, Maroney found a huge hole and was on his way to a 27-yard touchdown to make the score 24-14 with 4:36 left to play.
With the way New England's defense was playing, that should have been ball game but it only took Garrard 1:33 to go 60 yards, the last play a 33-yard catch and run for the score by Matt Jones.
Jacksonville kicked away with 3:03 and the Patriots took over on their 14-yard line. Now, Jacksonville's defense was energized and it held New England to three plays after Dillon was caught in the backfield for a 4-yard loss. Sauerbrun's punt was fair caught at the Jags 45 with 1:55 remaining, plenty of time for Garrard to get his team at least in field goal range.
Garrard's first play of the drive was also his last of the day. First, Banta-Cain flushed him out of the pocket. Then, Jarvis Green swatted the ball out of his hand. Finally, Rodney Harrison recovered to give his team the ball and the game. With no timeouts left for the Jaguars, they were forced to watch Brady take knees while his team captured the AFC East.