A week after losing despite a stunning late comeback, the New England Patriots would like to get things in gear a little earlier.
That wouldn't figure to be a problem against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Patriots look to rebuild some momentum and keep their slim hopes for a playoff bye alive on Sunday when they visit Jacksonville, which has one win in three months.
While New England is likely to be seeded no better than third in the AFC, it can still claim the top spot with wins over Jacksonville and Miami, and with Houston (12-2) losses to Minnesota and Indianapolis.
The Patriots (10-4) could also pass Denver (11-3) with two wins and a Broncos loss to either Cleveland or Kansas City.
"I'm not smart enough to understand the 80 different things that can happen,' coach Bill Belichick said. "I don't really care. There's nothing we can do about any of them."
It would take quite an upset for Belichick's club to lose back-to-back games for the second time this season.
The Patriots are averaging 39.5 points with a 6-0 record against teams with losing records, while Jacksonville is 0-6 against opponents with winning records.
Still, the AFC East champions appear to be guarding against a letdown after splitting consecutive contests against top-tier clubs Houston and San Francisco.
"If you give the other team a chance, they're going to take it,' receiver Brandon Lloyd said. "So you have to prepare the same way for every opponent."
Lloyd had a season-high 10 catches for a career-best 190 yards to help New England rally from a 28-point deficit and draw even in the fourth quarter Monday night.
The Patriots, though, ran out of gas as San Francisco answered with the next 10 points en route to a 41-34 victory that snapped the team's seven-game winning streak.
Tom Brady completed 36 of a career-high 65 attempts in the loss with one touchdown and two interceptions. He has thrown three picks in his last three games after going five straight contests without one.
"We had a pretty good streak there going of wins and it feels pretty good when you're on those winning streaks," Brady said. "And then when you lose, it feels like you haven't won a game in three years.'
The league's most potent offense (36.1 points per game) could be even stronger Sunday if tight end Rob Gronkowski returns from a broken forearm. He is tied for third in the league with 10 touchdown catches despite missing the last four games.
His return would be terrible news for a Jacksonville defense that has allowed 27.4 points per game, ranking 29th in the NFL.
The Jaguars (2-12) have lost three straight and 10 of 11 after Sunday's 24-3 defeat at Miami on Sunday, and are guaranteed of at least a tie for the worst record in franchise history.
"No one thought we'd be in this situation with only having two wins this late in the year,' linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "I think we have too many guys who can make plays and do things the right way. But for whatever reason, we haven't been able to bring it all together to win.'
Playing at home hasn't helped the Jaguars, who have lost six of seven there, with five of those losses by 17 points or more.
Chad Henne performed well against Houston and Tennessee in November, throwing for six touchdowns, but the fifth-year quarterback has gone 58 for 119 (48.7) with one TD and three interceptions during the three-game skid.
Cecil Shorts has been one of the few bright spots, finishing with six catches for 101 yards against the Dolphins for his fourth 100-yard effort in seven games.
Jacksonville is still expected to be without star running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who has missed eight games with a sprained left foot.
The Jaguars have totaled 13 points in their last two games, and 219 on the season - the second fewest in the NFL.
New England has won five straight against the Jaguars and eight of nine all-time meetings. Jacksonville's only win in the series was a 25-10 victory at home in the 1999 playoffs.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved