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Patriots move game closer to the seemingly inevitable

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It is games such as Saturday night's at Gillette Stadium that truly make the New England Patriots frightening.

This wasn't about Tom Brady making big throws to Randy Moss or anyone else. This wasn't about the Patriots dominating in any phase of the game.

This was about an opponent playing as well as it possibly could, delivering its best shots on offense and defense, yet still ending up on the wrong side of the final score.

Sometimes, as they demonstrated in their 31-20 divisional-round playoff victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the best thing the Patriots do is simply win.

Nothing splashy. Nothing spectacular. Just win. Just extend their perfect season. Just move one game closer to the inevitable -- a fourth Super Bowl win.

I know, I know. They will need to beat the Indianapolis Colts or San Diego Chargers to get there in the Jan. 20 AFC Championship Game.

But isn't that just a formality?

The Patriots are great enough to be great and they're good enough to be good. They're able to do whatever it takes to come out on top, which is exactly what one would expect from a 17-0 team on its way to 19-0.

What it took against the Jaguars was an efficient performance by Tom Brady. He threw mostly short and intermediate passes, and wound up completing 26 of 28 of them for 262 yards and three touchdowns (setting a new postseason record for completion percentage, breaking Phil Simms' record of 88 percent set in Super Bowl XXI). Moss was no factor, catching only one pass for 14 yards.

"We played well enough to win, made enough plays that we needed to make when it was a critical time," coach Bill Belichick said. "And now we're on to next week. We know it keeps getting tougher every step of the way through the playoffs, so now, whoever it is, we know we have to play better, play our best football next week."

Maybe so, maybe not.

The Patriots were pushed fairly hard Saturday night. The Jaguars were mostly sound, especially quarterback David Garrard, who connected on 22 of 33 passes for 278 yards and pair of scores. Garrard's play was the key to the game being tied, 14-14, at halftime. The Jags stayed within striking distance until late in the third quarter, when Brady connected on his second touchdown of the night to tight end Ben Watson.

They cost themselves dearly with four or five crucial mistakes, including a pair of drops by receiver Dennis Northcutt, a fumble by Garrard, a roughing-the-passer penalty and a blown coverage that allowed Brady to complete his longest pass (53 yards to Donte' Stallworth).

The Jags did an excellent job of virtually eliminating Moss from the Patriots' offense, covering him with multiple defensive backs for much of the game. Yet that came with a price.

"They did a great job of controlling me," Moss said. "They did a bad job of controlling the other 10."

One of the "other 10" was Wes Welker, who caught nine passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Another was running back Laurence Maroney, who ran 22 times for 122 yards and touchdown.

"The thing with trying to take away Randy or trying to take away any one player, I mean, you're vulnerable in a lot of other places," Brady said. "So I thought we ran it great. I thought we were efficient throwing the ball. They are doing what they think is the best thing they can to stop us. Sometimes it worked tonight and other times, I thought we made enough plays."

Just enough to win, which is what makes this Patriots team even scarier than when they were consistently blowing out opponents earlier in the year.

On Saturday night, the Pats, more than ever, looked like a team headed for another Super Bowl victory.

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