Patriots surging entering playoffs

0

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – In just three weeks, the Patriots have turned a team in trouble into one to be feared again.

“We just couldn’t do anything right,” quarterback Tom Brady said after New England’s last loss, 21-0 at Miami.

Since then, the club that won three of the past five Super Bowls has outscored opponents by an average of 35-17 and Brady is in the midst of his best stretch of the season.

“We have won three games in a row so I think that I am excited about that, and our defense is playing as good as anybody,” Brady said after Sunday’s 40-23 win at Tennessee. “But it doesn’t mean anything unless we go in and win next week.”

The Patriots will be home for next Sunday’s wild-card game against the New York Jets. The last time they met, the Jets won 17-14 at Gillette Stadium, dropping the Patriots to 6-3.

That ended the Patriots streak of 57 games without consecutive losses, but since then, they are 6-1.

“We have some pretty good momentum and kind of corrected some of the issues that we had prior to the past three games, like turnovers,” safety Artrell Hawkins said.

During their current winning streak, the Patriots forced opponents into eight turnovers while committing none. In their previous six games, they committed 19 turnovers, took the ball away just 13 times and were 3-3.

Brady also has stepped up his game during the streak, completing 68.6 percent of his attempts with four touchdown passes, no interceptions and three sacks. Until then, he had a 60.5 completion percentage, 20 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and 23 sacks in 13 games.

With runners Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney, the Patriots also pose a potent threat on the ground.

And with a strong defense, they went 12-4 and set a team record for fewest points allowed per game. Cornerback Asante Samuel tied Denver’s Champ Bailey for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions, two coming against Tennessee.

“I dropped a lot of picks in the past and I needed to focus on the ball more,” said Samuel, who has practiced catching a nerf ball with his son. “I said, “I should take this onto the field with me to help me focus on the ball more.’ “

There was nothing soft about Sunday’s game.

The Patriots were incensed about wide receiver Bobby Wade’s block in the second quarter that knocked safety Rodney Harrison out of the rest of the game with a right leg injury. No penalty was called and there was no indication of whether Harrison, who was able to walk off the field, would play against the Jets.

There was a lot of pushing among players and a total of 19 penalties, nine by the Patriots.

“We just got a little testy, something that we didn’t want to get into, but it is a part of football,” defensive end Richard Seymour said. “You definitely don’t want to get into the little pushing and shoving stuff that some of those guys (on the Titans) there normally get into. You want to do it between the whistles.”

Two other key starters, tight end Benjamin Watson and nose tackle Vince Wilfork, were sidelined the last three games, and running back Kevin Faulk sat out Sunday’s game. Their status for the playoff opener is unknown.

The Patriots also provided a feel-good moment – although some Titans thought it was unnecessary with the outcome decided – when Vinny Testaverde came in for their next-to-last possession and threw a touchdown pass that extended his NFL record to 20 consecutive seasons with at least one.

“The first thing I did when I came off the field was find Coach Belichick and thank him for the opportunity,” Testaverde said.

Relations between Belichick and Jets coach Eric Mangini have been much cooler. Belichick has hurried from his post-game handshakes with his former defensive coordinator after the teams split their two games.

New York also is surging with wins in its last three games and a 5-2 record after its victory over New England.

“The most important thing was to finish the season on a strong note,” Seymour said. “It is obviously good to have momentum going into the playoffs. This is when the season really starts.”

Advertisement
SHARE