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Vince Wilfork proves he always has the back of his teammates

12.23.12 at 6:10 pm ET
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On a day that Tom Brady blasted his own performance and that of his offensive teammates, another Patriots captain – Vince Wilfork -also had a defining moment of leadership.

Late in the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars threatening to tie the game, Chandler Jones hit Chad Henne on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots 10. Patrick Chung picked off the pass at the goal line and returned it to the Patriots 28.

But, during the return, Jacksonville offensive lineman Steve Vallos hit Trevor Scott from behind toward the end of the play. Vallos knocked Scott from behind and face first into the ground. Wilfork saw it and took big time exception with it and retaliated against Vallos. Wilfork was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for sticking up for his teammate.

“That was protecting my teammate, plain and simple,” Wilfork said. “You’re not going to sit right in front of me and take a cheap shot at my guy with me standing behind you, that won’t fly. Plain and simple. I’ll probably get penalized for it, I did, but at the same time, you’ll never see me letting my teammates just get cheap-shotted like that with me standing right there.

“It is what it is, it’s part of football. Some people might not like it, some people might like it, but I’m going to do everything I can to protect my teammates,” he continued. “And I was protecting my teammate. But it is what it is, and I don’t think twice about it. If it happened again, I’d protect my teammate the best way I could.”

Read More: Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, nfl

AFC playoff field set with Bengals and Colts punching their tickets

12.23.12 at 5:36 pm ET
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The Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts are headed to the playoffs.

Both teams won games on the road Sunday to clinch their postseason berths, meaning all six spots in the AFC playoffs are spoken for. The only thing to be decided is the seeding.

Josh Brown, filling in for the injured Mike Nugent, kicked a 43-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to lift the Bengals over the Steelers 13-10 at Heinz Field on Sunday, sending the Bengals into the playoffs for a second straight season for the first time in 30 years.

Brown missed a 56-yarder earlier in the quarter but earned a second chance when Reggie Nelson picked off Ben Roethlisberger and returned it to the Pittsburgh 46 with 14 seconds remaining. Andy Dalton hit A.J. Green for 21 yards on the next play, setting up Brown’s game-winner.

Moments earlier in Kansas City, the Colts punched their ticket to the postseason with a late 20-13 win over the Chiefs. Andrew Luck threw for 205 yards to break the single-season rookie record, and his touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne late in the fourth quarter provided the margin of victory.

Luck surpassed Cam Newton‘s year-old record of 4,051 yards passing by a rookie in the second quarter, and then came through in the closing minutes. He marched Indy to the Chiefs 7, and then found Wayne in the back of the end zone on third-and-goal for the go-ahead score.

Darius Butler returned an interception 32 yards against the Chiefs (2-13) for a TD, helping the Colts (10-5) join the 2008 Miami Dolphins as the only NFL teams to win at least 10 games after losing 14 or more the previous season.

Read More: Cincinnati Bengals, Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts, nfl

Poll: How do you feel about the Patriots win?

12.23.12 at 4:39 pm ET
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How do you feel about the Patriots win?

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Snap Judgments: Patriots hang on to beat Jaguars, 23-16

12.23.12 at 4:09 pm ET
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In a game that was occasionally messy, the Patriots held on to beat the homestanding Jaguars Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville, taking a 23-16 decision to move to 11-4 on the season. New England was led by Tom Brady, who went 24-for-41 for 267 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Stevan Ridley had 18 carries for 84 yards, while Wes Welker added 10 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Chad Henne was 29-for-51 for 348 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions on the afternoon.

Here are a few quick notes:


‘€¢After having some issues in the first quarter-plus on the afternoon, the New England offense got it cranked up in the second and into the third quarter, putting 20 unanswered points on the board and turning a 13-3 deficit into a 23-13 fourth-quarter lead. The Patriots best drive of the game came at the end of the second quarter, a 10-play, 66-yard sequence that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead that tied the game at 13 with less than a minute to go in the first half. The drive was highlighted by a direct snap to Ridley and an 11-yard pass play to Welker.

‘€¢A good day for the backfield, as Woodhead continues to be an important and versatile part of the offense — he had one receiving touchdown, and would have had a second if not for a terrific defensive play by Jacksonville’s Jeremy Mincey, who knocked the pass away at the last minute. In addition, running back Ridley bounced back nicely after a rough week against the Niners with 84 yards. (He’s 30 carries away from 300 — if he can hit the mark in the regular-season finale against the Dolphins next week, he’ll become the first 300-carry back for the Patriots since Corey Dillon turned the trick in 2004.)

‘€¢The two leading receivers — Brandon Lloyd and Welker — had another good game as a tandem. After finishing with 10 catches last week against the Niners, Lloyd had six catches for 62 yards Sunday in Jacksonville. As for Welker, he had 10 catches for 88 yards. Welker now has five seasons with at least 110 catches. No player in NFL history has more than two.

‘€¢After not showing much over the last few weeks — perhaps he’s been slowed by an ankle injury he suffered last month against the Colts — rookie defensive end Chandler Jones delivered a key fourth-quarter play to lift the New England defense. Down by seven in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville decided to take a shot for the end zone on fourth down. But Jones came off the edge and delivered a great shot on Henne, which affected the route of the ball. The pass was picked off by Patrick Chung. (The first of two picks on the afternoon for Chung.) Jones has struggled over the last few weeks, but it was a big play at a big time for the rookie out of Syracuse.


‘€¢The Patriots were extremely sluggish out of the gate, as they had issues on both sides of the ball when it came to keeping up with the woeful Jags. A large portion of that was likely due to the fact that New England was going with a lot of relatively new personnel combinations on both sides of the ball (because the Patriots wanted to get a look at some youngsters, as well as the fact that they were dealing with some injury). While it’s tough to fault them because some of it was due to new faces in new places, the slow start was initially a cause for concern.

‘€¢In that same vein, the Jags were able to take advantage of some confusion in the New England secondary and hit on some big pass plays. Jacksonville had some big plays early, including a 53-yarder to Montell Owens, a 36-yarder to Jordan Shipley and 18-yard pass plays to Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III.

‘€¢The New England offensive line is going through a rough patch. Brady was sacked just three times from Week 6 to Week 12. He’s now taken 11 sacks from Week 13 through Sunday.

‘€¢Chung was targeted in coverage on several occasions, and ended up taking a costly helmet-to-helmet hit late in the game on Shorts. He did come away with a pair of picks, but in between, it was a rough afternoon for the safety.

Third-quarter notes: Patriots 16, Jaguars 13

12.23.12 at 3:16 pm ET
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Three quarters are in the books, and New England now holds a 16-13 lead. Here are a few quick notes:

It was a relatively uneventful third quarter, as both teams continued to struggle offensively — since going up 13-3, the Jaguars have punted the ball four times and added an interception into the mix (as well as an end-of-half drive). Meanwhile, the Patriots were able to take the lead for the first time all afternoon with an early field goal.

The Patriots took their first lead of the day on their first drive of the third quarter with a nice sequence that included passes to Brandon Lloyd of 16, 14 and nine yards. New England wasn’t able to punch it in — Jeremy Mincey made a nice pass breakup on a ball for Danny Woodhead — and settled for a 38-yard field goal on its opening drive to make it 16-13 with 11:48 remaining in the third quarter.

On their final drive of the fourth quarter, the Patriots were able to get down to the Jags’ one-yard line with a nice drive that included a sweet 25-yard pass play from Tom Brady to Wes Welker. (Welker also added a nine-yard gain on an end-around.)

Second-quarter notes: Patriots 13, Jaguars 13

12.23.12 at 2:28 pm ET
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Two quarters are done in Jacksonville, and after a rough start for the Patriots, the game is tied at 13. Here are a few notes:

The Jags were moving at the start of the second quarter, but after some nice defensive pressure on Chad Henne by Justin Francis and Trevor Scott, the Patriots were able to force Jacksonville to settle for a field goal — Josh Scobee connected on a 35-yarder to push the Jags’ lead to 13-3 with 13:11 left in the half.

After a 3-and-out for the Patriots, the Jaguars dialed up a 3-and-out of their own. New England then answered with a sharp drive, but one that again stalled out short of the goal line. Tom Brady found Aaron Hernandez on a nice 14-yard catch-and-run, and that was followed with a 24-yard pass play to Danny Woodhead. But a bad penalty on Hernandez put the Patriots’ in a third-and-long situation, and forced them to settle for a 49-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski (his second field goal of the day) to make it 13-6 with 5:25 left in the quarter.

The Patriots then put together their best drive of the first half at the end of the second quarter, a 10-play, 66-yard sequence that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Woodhead that tied the game at 13 with less than a minute to go in the first half. The drive was highlighted by a direct snap to Stevan Ridley and an 11-yard pass play to Wes Welker.

The Patriots continued to shuffle things up in the secondary. Aqib Talib was back on the field, while Tavon Wilson replaced Pat Chung at safety. That gave New England a Wilson/Steve Gregory combo at safety, while Talib, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington were together at corner. It’s debatable how much the changes could be happening because of situational football — it appears there’s also a desire to make sure everyone is as game-ready as possible heading into the postseason. They’re getting a look at a lot of people this afternoon on both sides of the ball. (Offensive players who are getting a good look include rookie running back Brandon Bolden.)

First-quarter notes: Jaguars 10, Patriots 3

12.23.12 at 1:41 pm ET
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One quarter is in the books in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars hold a 10-3 lead. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢Things have started badly for New England, as the Jags had no problem marching downfield on their first drive of the game for a touchdown. Jacksonville followed that up with an interception of Tom Brady on a ball for Stevan Ridley that was tipped and picked off by Jacksonville safety Chris Prosinski. The Jags stalled out on that drive, but did pick up a 41-yard field goal from Josh Scobee to make it 10-0 with 5:43 left in the quarter.

‘€¢The Patriots had a few defensive wrinkles to start the game. Aqib Talib (who had struggled with injury over the course of the week and in warmups) and Alfonzo Dennard (who was on the inactive list) were sidelined, as the Patriots went with Devin McCourty at corner in his place. McCourty’s move to corner meant that Steve Gregory and Pat Chung were back together at safety. And Rob Ninkovich took over at middle linebacker for Brandon Spikes, who was inactive because of a knee injury. (The Patriots’ featured a defensive front of Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick.) The Jags took advantage of some issues in the New England defense, marching smartly down the field and taking a 7-0 lead when Justin Blackmon on a three-yard touchdown pass with 9:39 left in the first quarter.

‘€¢The best sequence of the quarter for the Patriots came at the end of the first when they went on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that really got going after a 32-yard pickup from Brady to Michael Hoomanawanui that New England a spark. The Patriots, who also got runs from Ridley of 16 and nine yards, were able to steer to the Jacksonville seven-yard line, but with New England in the red zone, there appeared to be a miscommunication between Brady and Brandon Lloyd — that resulted in a third-down misfire and forced the Patriots to settle for a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-3 with just over three minutes left in the quarter.

‘€¢Scobee missed a 43-yard field goal attempt wide left at the end of the quarter, and that opened the door for New England. However, a couple of plays into the drive, Brady threw his second pick of the quarter, a play where Jacksonville defensive back Derek Cox neatly undercut Lloyd to come away with the ball.

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