FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In a span of five plays in the fourth quarter, Rodney Harrison showed the Jacksonville Jaguars why he's still one of the most feared defensive backs in the league.
Less than 30 seconds after being called for a late hit out of bounds, the New England safety picked off David Garrard to clinch the Patriots' 31-20 AFC playoff victory over Jacksonville. It was Harrison's fourth consecutive playoff game with an interception, tying Aeneas Williams' NFL record.
"I'm not trying to break any records or anything like that. I'm just trying to help my team," said Harrison, who had a chance at another pickoff on a ball that was knocked down earlier in the fourth quarter. "I'm kind of disappointed that I missed one in the end zone. So, fortunately, one came back to me."
"I didn't play last year in the playoffs, so I'm excited," Harrison said. "We've got an opportunity, and that's all you can ask for, the opportunity to play in a big game. And we're going to relax, we're going to rest, and we're going to get back in here on Tuesday and we're going to learn from all of these bad mistakes that we made. And we're going to get better."
The Chargers earned the chance to come to Foxborough by beating the Colts 28-24 in Indianapolis on Sunday. Both quarterback Philip Rivers and 2006 NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson were injured during the game, watching from the sidelines as backup quarterback Billy Volek and backup running back Michael Turner led the Chargers to the victory.
"A lot's happened since then. We'll definitely start all over on the preparations. It's like it's a new team," Belichick said. "Our whole season's at stake; so's theirs. I don't think anything that's happened in the past has much bearing on it."
"It seems like it was just last week we were in Indy playing in that game. It seems like yesterday," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "So we're excited."
Harrison's vacation was extended into September with a four-game suspension after he admitted obtaining human growth hormone. But during the season Harrison returned to his role as one of the hardest-hitters in any secondary, a role he reprised with seven tackles -- and a few big hits -- on Sunday.
"It sends a message that it's going to be a physical day," Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "They were sweet. They left a bitter taste in your mouth. ... I think it just shows you the physicality of the secondary, that guys went out and hit people."
Some of the hits were a little too physical.
One of the most-fined and most-suspended players in league history, Harrison was called for unnecessary roughness on consecutive Jaguars drives in the fourth quarter. The first one helped jumpstart a Jacksonville drive that eventually stalled at the Patriots 7, resulting in a field goal that cut New England's lead to 28-20.
After the Patriots answered with Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal, Harrison handed the Jaguars another 15 yards and moved them past midfield after an 8-yard pass on fourth-and-5. But with 4:17 left in the game, Harrison picked off David Garrard and the Patriots ran the clock down to 32 seconds before Chris Hanson came out for his only punt of the night.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press