By Mark Long
---- — JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s been a decade since the New England Patriots lost consecutive games in December.
The streak seems pretty safe heading into Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.
Coming off a 41-34 home loss to San Francisco, the playoff-bound Patriots (10-4) look to get back to their winning ways when they face the woeful Jaguars (2-12) on Sunday. All signs point to a lopsided affair, with New England having scored at least 30 points 10 times this season and Jacksonville having lost seven games by more than two touchdowns.
“A lot of people are counting us out for this week,” Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said.
For good reason.
The Patriots are the only team in the league Jacksonville hasn’t beaten in the regular season in the franchise’s 19-year history.
And the Jaguars hardly appear poised for an upset, given they have an offense and defense that both rank 31st in the league. Jacksonville also has lost three in row against teams from the AFC East, and was only competitive against the dysfunctional New York Jets.
Nonetheless, coach Mike Mularkey is trying to convince his team it has a chance.
“I think they see that I believe we have a chance,” Mularkey said. “I think as we go through the week, they will see the film. If we play well enough, be where we’re supposed to be, if we prepare and we put a good game together, then we have a chance every week. I think we’re going to be very confident — just as we have the last 14 games.”
A defeat would give Jacksonville a franchise record for losses in a season and guarantee the team one of the top two picks in April’s draft.
No one in Jacksonville’s locker room is thinking about those things, though.
The Jaguars have considered all the changes that surely are on the horizon. It’s likely that general manager Gene Smith will be fired after the season. Mularkey has a better chance to stick around, but owner Shad Khan has to be considering a complete overhaul since the team regressed in so many areas.
And Jacksonville has numerous pending free agents, including seven key guys who opened the season as starters.
“Just because you have one bad year, you can’t say, ‘We’re going to restart everything,’” Jones-Drew said. “You can, but I don’t think that’s a formula for success.”
The Jaguars believe they know the formula for beating Brady and the Patriots.
“You have to get to him,” Mularkey said. “You have to put pressure on him, hope he overthrows and does some of the things I’ve seen on tape. He has thrown a number of passes that are tipped or overthrown, and if we do anything this week, we’ve got to put ourselves in position to make plays on those balls better than any week we have.”
Sounds easy, right.
Well, the Jaguars are winless in five games against Brady. He has thrown for 1,207 yards in those games, with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Regardless, Brady said he expects the Jaguars to present a challenge even though they have a league-low 15 sacks.
“There’s nobody on that team that’s not playing and giving everything they’ve got, so they rush hard,” Brady said. “They try to be real physical. They do some things well. I think that coach talked about focusing on what we need to do and getting a lot better as a team and our execution needs to be better.”
The Patriots nearly overcame execution issues and four turnovers against the 49ers last week.
They trailed 31-3 early in the third quarter before scoring 28 points in just over 14 minutes, a stunning comeback that tied the game at 31 with 6:43 left.
But the 49ers took the lead for good after a long kickoff return followed by a 38-yard TD pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree.
“It was definitely pretty bizarre,” Patriots receiver Wes Welker said. “It’s just one of those games that kind of didn’t go our way, went our way and then didn’t. We’ve just got to move on and look forward to the next week.”
And avoid something that hasn’t happened in more than 10 years.