Patriots fend off Jaguars

Published 12:01am Monday, December 24, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Coming off consecutive prime-time games at home and facing one of the NFL’s worst teams on the road, the New England Patriots were poised for a letdown.

They surely didn’t expect a near meltdown.

Tom Brady overcame a rough start by throwing two touchdown passes, and the Patriots held on to beat the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars 23-16 on Sunday.

“We came out flat and I think it showed out there,” Patriots receiver Wes Welker said. “We’ve got to do a better job of starting fast and doing what we do to take control of the game.”

Brady completed 24 of 41 passes for 267 yards, his worst outing in six games against Jacksonville. Welker caught 10 passes for 88 yards, passing Jerry Rice and Andre Johnson for the most 10-catch games (18) in NFL history. Natchez native Stevan Ridley ran 18 times for 84 yards.

A week after falling behind 31-3 against San Francisco, the Patriots found themselves down 10-0 in Jacksonville. Brady had two interceptions in the first quarter, the second one helping the Jaguars (2-13) build a double-digit 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 Welker for a 2-yard score on the second play of the fourth quarter, putting the Patriots (11-4) ahead 23-13. That seemed like plenty of cushion against the offensively challenged Jaguars. Jacksonville, though, had two decent chances to tie things in the closing minutes.