BOSTON (AP) – Their fourth consecutive divisional crown secured with a 24-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick must now decide how to approach his team’s final regular-season game Sunday against the surging Tennessee Titans.

The Patriots are the fourth seed in the AFC, but could move up to third if they win next week and the Indianapolis Colts lose their regular-season finale to Miami. In either case, New England would host a first-round playoff game and, if victorious, play on the road in the second round against one of the two AFC bye teams.

That leaves Belichick with an interesting quandary: Go all-out against Vince Young and the Titans – who have won six straight and still harbor faint playoff hopes – or give quarterback Tom Brady and other key regulars some much-needed rest in anticipation of the postseason.

The Patriots found themselves in a virtually identical situation going into their final regular-season game last season, and Belichick chose to take the safer route.

Brady played a few series and other starters took an early exit in a 28-26 loss to the Dolphins. Belichick even had a little fun in the game, sending veteran backup quarterback Doug Flutie in to execute the NFL’s first successful drop kick in 64 years.

Brady could be a bit sorer than usual after taking a hard shot on the back of his right shoulder while diving for a first down in the fourth quarter Sunday against Jacksonville.

He stayed on the ground for a few moments and left the field for one play, before returning to lead the Patriots on a drive capped by a 27-yard touchdown run by rookie Laurence Maroney.

“He got me pretty good,” Brady said of the hit by Jaguars’ linebacker Clint Ingram. “I’m sure it will be sore, but I’ll be ready to go.”

Belichick was obviously relieved the injury wasn’t more serious.

“You don’t want to see any player go down, but luckily he bounced back,” the coach said during his post-game news conference Sunday. “He’s a tough kid and that was a big first down that he got.”

New England also got a lift from the return of veteran safety Rodney Harrison, who missed six games with a broken shoulder blade, and Maroney, who sat out two with torn cartilage in his rib cage. But tight end Benjamin Watson and nose tackle Vincent Wilfork both missed a second straight game with knee and ankle injuries, respectively.

Other Patriots players probably also could benefit from the extra rest – the team has battled injuries all season – but that may be outweighed by the benefits of staying sharp and tuning up for the playoffs against the Titans, who are 8-7 after Sunday’s 30-29 win over Buffalo.


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