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Jaguars at Patriots > 1P.M., Ch. 4

Patriots look for finishing touch today

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 27, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Something is getting lost in the last 30 minutes of games for the Patriots.

Seven times this season, they have been outscored in the second half. Twice they still have managed to come away with a victory, but being unable to close out games has cost them.

If the Patriots (9-5) are ever going to find more consistency, today would be a good day for it. Despite their struggles, they can clinch the AFC East with a win against the Jaguars (7-7) at Gillette Stadium.

“I mean, there are only two teams in the AFC that are really set, so pretty much everyone is playing playoff games this week,’’ quarterback Tom Brady said. “Down the stretch, that’s what happens. The playoffs start . . . if you’re not in and you’ve got to win and make them, that’s kind of one game and you’re out, so to speak, and there are a lot of teams like that in the AFC and I see us as one of those teams, so we have a lot to play for.’’

About the most consistent element for the Patriots this season has been their record at home. They are undefeated there, and extending that streak today would send them back to the playoffs after missing last year for the first time since 2002.

Last week, the Patriots allowed the Bills to make the final minutes in Buffalo interesting even though New England took a 17-10 win. Buffalo outscored the Patriots, 7-3, in the second half.

“There were a lot of good things in the fourth quarter - defensively and the last drive, the last conversion, was good offensively, but then we missed opportunities prior to that and the three possessions before that,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “Defensively, even with not really good field position, we kept them out of the end zone and we played pretty good until the last series where we got stopped on offense and we had a bad punt, a good punt return, and gave up the touchdown. But then we were able to get the ball back and run out the clock on the final possession.

“There was a little bit of a theme to that throughout the whole game. There were things that we did well and there were times that we didn’t do them as well.’’

That statement could describe the entire season for the Patriots when it comes to the second half.

Eight times they have been held to 10 points or fewer in the second half, and they have not scored more than 15 points in the last 30 minutes. Overall, the Patriots have outscored opponents, 124-118, in the second half, but they have nearly twice as many points in the first half (241).

Brady said early in the week that the offense has yet to establish an identity, and injuries to key players at various points in the season didn’t help that cause. Wide receiver Wes Welker agreed.

“We look real good at times, and we struggle at times,’’ Welker said. “We just need to continue to work hard and make sure that we’re trying to develop ourselves and get better on a daily basis.’’

Cornerback Leigh Bodden said the team has been looking at how opponents approach the latter stages of games and trying to come up with ways to react to those changes.

“Nothing can be perfect,’’ Bodden said. “You can’t find anything on film on any team that you’re just doing everything right on every play, so that’s always going to happen. But just to limit the bad plays or the mental errors is something that a team wants to do each week.’’

There are not many opportunities left for the Patriots to get it right. They end the regular season at Houston next Sunday.

Despite the ups and downs, the Patriots have won enough to be on the verge of clinching a playoff berth.

“We know what [a win] will do this week and that’s really one of our goals at the start of the season, to win our division,’’ Belichick said. “If we could do that this weekend, that would be an accomplishment.

“It doesn’t matter what everybody else does; if we win, then we’ve achieved one of our goals this year.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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