JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Typically, the Patriots will publicly pooh-pooh any notion that they won a game ugly — in Foxborough, and in the NFL standings, a win is a win, with no notation or demerit given for close or unattractive victories.
But in the moments after New England’s 23-16 win over the Jaguars on Sunday at EverBank Field, it was hard to find a player who was taking that stance.
Certainly not quarterback Tom Brady.
Normally so measured when cameras are present, Brady was visibly frustrated and did little to mask his disappointment during his postgame news conference.
“We played pretty terrible out there. It came down to the wire and our defense made some plays, but that was a bad 60 minutes of football,” Brady said, later calling the team’s execution “terrible.”
“We got outcompeted out there, outfought,” he added. “We were lucky to win.”
And an expletive-filled tirade that leaked through the locker room doors in the moments after the game was Brady unleashing on his teammates for their performance — not coach Bill Belichick — several sources in the room confirmed, underscoring just how angry Brady was with the Patriots’ play.
Brady had his second two-interception game in as many weeks, and was sacked three times and hit nine times.
It was not a result worthy of praise, not after the defense let the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense march 78 yards on nine plays for a touchdown to open the game, during which Chad Henne — who entered the afternoon with a worse completion percentage than beleaguered and benched Jet Mark Sanchez — completed all six of his passes.
Not after Brady then floated a sideline pass for Stevan Ridley that ended up as his seventh interception of the year.
Not after the Jaguars were able to turn that first turnover into 3 points and the Patriots were in a 10-0 hole to a two-win team less than 10 minutes into the game.
“They came out and played really well. We came out flat and I think it showed out there,” receiver Wes Welker said, seven days after the Patriots spotted the 49ers a 28-point lead before mounting a (failed) comeback. “We have to do a better job of coming out there and starting fast, do what we do and take control of the game.”
Not after New England’s second possession stalled well inside the red zone after two potential failed touchdown passes, one each to Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez, forced the team to take a field goal.
Not after Brady threw another interception before the first quarter had ended, this time picked off by Derek Cox on a throw down the middle of the field intended for Lloyd.
Not after a fake-handoff, fake-end-around, running back screen from Henne to Montell Owens picked up 53 yards and set up the Jaguars’ third score, a 35-yard field goal to put the home team up, 13-3.
Not after an illegal motion call on Hernandez negated a third-down conversion that effectively ended a second-quarter drive that meant settling for another field goal.
Not even after a three and out forced by the defense and a 10-play touchdown drive that pulled the Patriots into a 13-13 halftime tie, a 14-yard Brady-to-Danny Woodhead pass capping the march.
“Obviously, not what we wanted,” Belichick said of the slow start. “They gave us a little different approach offensively, but we made some adjustments. Once we saw what they were doing, our players and coaches got a better look at it and I think they did a good job.
“They started the game off with a little different style. They got the advantage on us, but eventually we settled down.”
But things still weren’t great, not after the Patriots took their first lead early in the third quarter, on yet another field goal — Stephen Gostkowski’s three field goals and two extra points allowing him to set a personal best for points in a season with 149.
Not after New England finally put some distance between itself and its host with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, a 2-yard Brady-to-Welker pass on third down to make it 23-13 — just the Patriots’ third third-down conversion of the game.
The Patriots finished 4 for 12 on third downs, a 33 percent rate that followed a season-worst 13.3 percent (2 of 15) rate a week earlier against San Francisco, startling numbers for a unit that has led the league in that category for most of the season.
Not after the Jaguars converted two third downs on their way to a fourth-quarter field goal to quickly pull back within a touchdown.
Not after letting Jacksonville get to the doorstep of the tying or winning touchdown before a costly false-start penalty, even if that threat ended with a Dont’a Hightower sack and Chandler Jones quarterback hit that led to a goal-line interception from Patrick Chung.
Chung got his first start since Oct. 14 in Seattle, in large part because of injuries: linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard didn’t make the trip; corner Aqib Talib visibly struggled through warm-ups because of a hip injury, and though he was in uniform, he was limited.
That meant Devin McCourty, after two months at safety, was forced back to cornerback for at least one more game.
“We know we’ve got to play better no matter what. It’s better to come out of here when you’re not at your best and get a win,” McCourty said.
“We know we’ve got to win games, but our goal is to come out and play better than we’ve played. I think it’s a little disappointing for us that we know we didn’t play as good as we could have played.”
Indeed it was nothing to write home about, not after the Patriots’ offense gave the ball back after yet another failed third-down attempt, a third and 7 that ended with Tyson Alualu dropping Brady for a 10-yard sack.
And especially not after letting Jacksonville, wanting to end its home schedule with a respect-producing win over New England, once again threatened to get into the end zone.
A 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Chung, a 17-yard reception given up on fourth and 10, and an 18-yard pass to Jordan Shipley and the Jaguars were in the red zone again, their modest but faithful fans itching for a victory over one of the best teams in the conference.
But on an end-of-the-game Hail Mary for rookie Justin Blackmon, Chung ended up with the ball once again.
“These guys came in and gave it everything they had to the last second,” defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said of Jacksonville. “I’m proud of the way we responded, but at the same time, at the end of the day it won’t be good enough.”
“You all saw that performance,” Ridley said. “That’s not Patriots football. That’s not how we like to play.”
Interestingly, one of the few members of the Patriots not to express clear frustration over the result of Sunday’s game was Belichick.
“It’s always good to win,” he said. “We got off to a slow start, but we made some plays to get back into the game right before the half. There’s always more work to do, but we have another week to work on things before we head into the playoffs.”