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New England Patriots maintain hope for playoff bye


It wasn't a game the New England Patriots will gather round to watch time and again, but Sunday's 23-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars kept hope alive for an AFC playoff bye.

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New England holds the tiebreaker with Denver for the No. 2 seed, but that means nothing unless the Broncos drop their next game against the floundering Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots meanwhile must beat the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.

The Patriots threatened to pull themselves out of that race Sunday, opening as flat as we've seen them in 2012. Quarterback Tom Brady threw two first-half interceptions, and the Jaguars' offense pressed the Patriots with aggressive play-calling and downfield strikes behind a white-hot Chad Henne. (That's right, we said a white-hot Chad Henne.)

New England's attack struggled to find itself against Jacksonville's 31st-ranked defense.

Brady leaned heavily on his security blanket, Wes Welker, rattling off 10 completions to the wideout -- but something was missing Sunday. The up-tempo, no-huddle scheme of weeks past was disrupted by a Jaguars defensive line that punished Brady. Jacksonville's three sacks don't tell the full story.

New England forces teams to endure for 60 minutes. The Jaguars fell short of that task, but the Patriots looked less like a playoff-bound giant and more like a team still smarting -- physically and mentally -- from last week's loss to the San Francisco 49ers. New England remains alive for the bye, but that won't mean much in January if it repeats this performance.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.