Pats put league on warning


Published: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Watch out, the New England Patriots look like champions again, and that should send a chill through the rest of the NFL.
Tom Brady, Willie McGinest and the Patriots set an NFL record with 10 straight postseason victories by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-3 on Saturday night.
Pursuing an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl title, New England battered the overmatched Jags. Brady, who has quarterbacked all 10 of those postseason wins, tied a playoff career high with three touchdown passes, and McGinest set NFL postseason marks with 4 sacks and 16 for his career.
"We had a good time," said McGinest, who surpassed Bruce Smith's record for postseason sacks. "In the company of guys like Bruce Smith and Reggie White, it's definitely a compliment. I'm just humbled to be in the same category with those guys."
McGinest and the rest of the defense, even without co-Comeback Player of the Year Tedy Bruschi, who was in uniform but didn't play because of a calf injury, kept Jacksonville from mounting much of a challenge. The Jaguars (12-5) looked like a team making its first postseason appearance since 1999, and one that faced an easy schedule in compiling such a strong record.
New England's milestone surpassed the nine straight playoff victories by Green Bay in the 1960s and set up a road trip next weekend to either Indianapolis or Denver, depending on the outcome of Sunday's Pittsburgh-Cincinnati matchup.
While Brady had touchdown throws of 11 yards to Troy Brown, 3 to David Givens and 63 to Ben Watson - the tight end did all the work on that one - the defense never let Jacksonville's offense breathe. Cornerback Asante Samuel was particularly active with a 73-yard interception return early in the fourth quarter that clinched it, and New England finished with six sacks overall.
The Patriots (11-5) last lost a playoff game in 1999, to the Jaguars. Since Bill Belichick became coach in 2000, they have won three Super Bowls in four seasons, but never played in the wild-card round until now.
Although they sputtered early, the Patriots were plenty sharp in dominating the second half. They haven't lost a playoff game at home since 1978.
The first half was marked by tenacious defense on both sides. The Jaguars had four sacks and yielded only 126 yards. New England got two sacks and allowed 115 yards.
Jacksonville didn't get a first down until about 11 minutes remained in the second quarter. Then Eugene Wilson laid a vicious hit on backup running back Alvin Pearman, forcing a fumble. Richard Seymour recovered at the New England 40.
The Patriots did nothing with the takeaway, however, and the Jaguars finally got something going, a 12-play, 56-yard drive to set up Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal.
New England should have gotten seven more points at the end of the half, but Deion Branch, wide open inside the Jacksonville 20, dropped Brady's long pass.
The Patriots also were forced to use Brown as a defensive back in passing situations, a ploy that worked well last season, but rarely was tried in 2005. Not surprisingly, he performed well in his part-time job.
But the Pats looked more like, well, the Pats in the second half, moving efficiently on offense while keeping the clamps on Jacksonville with a staunch defense.
Givens, who was wide open after a superb play fake by Brady, has a TD catch in six straight playoff games, two short of John Stallworth's NFL mark.
Watson broke three tackles after taking a short pass on third-and-13, making it 21-3. Six plays later, Samuel stepped in front of Reggie Williams, stole Byron Leftwich's pass and motored down the left sideline to score.
Leftwich, in his first action since breaking his left ankle on Nov. 27, looked rusty and indecisive. New England's defense had much to do with that, of course, and he left midway through the fourth quarter.
By then, the Patriots had topped Vince Lombardi's Packers and could start thinking about literally hitting the road to the Super Bowl.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith is tackled by New England Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs during the first quarter on Saturday.

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