Patriots stampede

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Historic throw: Testaverde tosses TD pass for NFL record 20th season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Bill Belichick told Vinny Testaverde to get loose. The 43-year-old quarterback wasn’t sure, so he asked the New England coach again.

“He said, “Get loose.’ I assumed that was to go in and throw the football. I threw a couple passes before I went in,” Testaverde said.

Testaverde capped the Patriots’ roll into the playoffs by throwing a touchdown for an NFL-record 20th season. Corey Dillon ran for two TDs and Tom Brady threw for one as New England stopped the Tennessee Titans’ magical run at NFL history by beating them 40-23 Sunday.

Last year, Belichick let Doug Flutie drop kick an extra point. This season, he gave Testaverde, signed Nov. 14, a chance at his own history. Testaverde found Troy Brown on his third pass, a 6-yarder with 1:45 left for at least one TD pass in 20 straight seasons.

“I wanted to give it to him,” Belichick said. “I think he deserves that.”

The Titans, disappointed at failing to deliver on the one piece they had control of in their improbable bid at a wild-card berth, were not happy with Testaverde’s pass.

“I don’t think that was really necessary,” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said.

The Titans (8-8) had won six straight games and needed to beat New England and hope Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Denver all lost. Jacksonville and Cincinnati did just that.

But they proved no match against the Patriots (12-4), who wanted as much momentum for themselves before hosting a wild-card game next weekend.

Belichick played Brady three quarters. New England took control by scoring 19 straight points, and the defense sacked Vince Young five times, forcing him into three turnovers.

“Twelve wins is a pretty good year,” Brady said. “Doesn’t mean much going into next week. Twelve wins, I’ll take it.”

The Titans wanted to become the first NFL team to start 0-5 and reach the playoffs. Fisher did what he could by keeping the scores from the Jacksonville-Kansas City and Cincinnati-Pittsburgh games off the scoreboards.

Announcing the scores of those games late in the third quarter didn’t help. Brady hit Reche Caldwell on the next play for a 62-yard TD and a 26-13 lead.

“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t finish up on a winning note, but I’m very, very optimistic about the future of this football team,” coach Jeff Fisher said of his Titans. “This is a young, young football team with a lot of promise ahead of them.”

The young Titans had been covering up their mistakes and inexperience with big plays during this incredible streak. They got an 81-yard punt return by Adam “Pacman” Jones just before halftime, and Young ran 28 yards on third-and-3 in the third quarter to pull within 26-23.

But the Titans finally ran out of the magic that helped them pull out four comeback victories.

Young, who autographed something for Testaverde before kickoff, looked like a rookie in his worst game since this streak started. He was intercepted twice, lost one of two fumbles and his best play outside of the TD run was tackling Asante Samuel after being intercepted.

His receivers didn’t help him much either, dropping other passes.

The Titans’ best chance came with the 9:15 left. But Young was incomplete on two passes, then Ty Warren sacked him to force the Titans three-and-out.

Chad Jackson returned the ensuing punt 39 yards, and rookie Laurence Maroney scored four plays later on a 1-yard TD run for a 33-23 lead.

With plenty of time left, Young threw away a pass on third-and-6, then was incomplete to Brandon Jones on a deep pass with 4:55 left.

New England let Testaverde take the field for likely the last time. Samuel picked off Young for the second time inside the final minute for his 10th interception.

With the rain falling through the first half, a field already soggy from the Music City Bowl on Friday turned into a muddy, slippery mess. The game was almost as sloppy as the field, with the teams flagged nine times each for a combined 248 yards.

“It was like what we played on the last five years,” Brady said, referring to the Patriots’ home turf that was replaced in midseason.

The Patriots played their third straight game without defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (right ankle) and tight end Benjamin Watson (left knee). New England didn’t miss them. Safety Rodney Harrison left in the first half with an injured right leg, but Belichick had no update on his condition.

Travis Henry ran for 98 yards on 12 carries in the first half against a defense that had been among the NFL’s best, allowing only 91.5 per game. The Patriots shut him down in the second half, and he finished with 102 yards on 21 carries.

Notes: Dillon passed O.J. Simpson for 14th all-time in rushing. He had 67 yards, giving him 11,241 for his career to top Simpson (11,236). Dillon also finished with 13 touchdowns rushing, tying the franchise single-season record set by Curtis Martin in 1995 and 1996. … Young finished 8-5 as a starter, the fifth-most wins by a rookie quarterback since 1970.

AP-ES-12-31-06 1818EST

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