By HOWARD ULMANFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The clock ticks down and the pressure builds. Often, the final minutes of a game are the most important.
AP Sports Writer
AP Sports Writer
The Patriots stayed undefeated with a touchdown with 44 seconds left in their 12th game. The Jaguars won their playoff game last weekend on a field goal with 37 seconds remaining.
Tonight, the final minutes of the AFC divisional playoff game between those teams will be the final minutes of the season for one of them.
‘‘Whoever is playing their best football at the end is going to be winning the game,’’ New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. ‘‘They’re a team that obviously is not going to back down and we’re not going to back down from them.’’
Jacksonville (12-5) advanced with a 31-29 win at Pittsburgh that was decided by Josh Scobee’s 25-yard field goal followed by a recovery of Ben Roethslisberger’s fumble.
‘‘When we bring that intensity and energy to the game for 60 minutes,’’ Jaguars cornerback Terry Cousin said, ‘‘I like what we are going to do.’’
Even if the Patriots, two-touchdown favorites, are way ahead, don’t expect them to let up.
They put Tom Brady back in the game in the fourth quarter of a 49-28 win after the Miami Dolphins made it 42-21 on an interception return for a touchdown against backup Matt Cassel. And Brady didn’t leave a 52-7 win over Washington until it was 45-0.
Coach Bill Belichick’s message was clear: play all-out no matter what the score. It will become second nature when the games are tight.
In last year’s AFC championship game, the Patriots coughed up an 18-point lead and lost to Indianapolis 38-34 on Joseph Addai’s touchdown with 60 seconds to go, followed by Marlin Jackson’s interception with 24 seconds left.
So from the first play of this regular season until the last, Belichick’s ‘‘60 Minutes’’ mantra was implanted in their minds.
‘‘Teams are too good and athletes are too good at this level to not finish the game off,’’ Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ‘‘We’ve seen other teams come back on us, not this year but certainly as soon as last year.’’
Their closest call in their 16-0 season came on a Monday night in Baltimore.
Trailing 24-20, Brady threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left.
‘‘Bill does a great job of putting us in those situations in practice,’’ Gaffney said. ‘‘When they happen, it’s all about your keeping your composure.’’
Still, the Ravens nearly pulled the game out with a desperation, 52-yard completion to Mark Clayton. But backup linebacker Eric Alexander tackled him at the 3-yard line with the scoreboard showing no time left and the Patriots leading 27-24.
‘‘We’ve had some games in the last month that basically took 60 minutes and that, I think, have gotten us used to playoff football,’’ linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.
The Jaguars already have their last-minute playoff win.
They squandered an 18-point lead — just as the Patriots did in the AFC title game — but came back to beat the Steelers on Scobee’s kick.
‘‘It’s a 60-minute game,’’ said Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, whose 32-yard run with 1:56 left set up the winning kick. ‘‘You can’t get bent out of shape early on because things happen. Maybe you don’t play it perfect every play, but you move on and continue the process. You never know, maybe they slip up.’’
With the Patriots, that rarely happens late in the game.
They won two Super Bowls on field goals — one on the last play, the other with 4 seconds left. They clinched another by recovering an onside kick and intercepting a pass in the last 2 minutes.
‘‘I mean, honestly, do you think we would ever tell our team, ‘Just 50 this week, fellas? That’s all we need. Just 45 and then we’ll take a quarter off.’ We always try to play 60 minutes,’’ said Belichick, in his eighth season as head coach. ‘‘We talked about that in 2000 and every year since then in every game.
‘‘There are a lot of close games, a lot of them come down to one possession, a lot of them come down to the final possession, a lot of times the final play. So you just have to be ready to go for 60 minutes every week.’’
His team is chasing an unprecedented start-to-finish feat: the first 19-0 season in NFL history. The 1972 Miami Dolphins were the only team to finish the regular season and playoffs unbeaten when they went 17-0.
The Jaguars would love to keep it that way. They already made NFL history as the only team to win twice at Pittsburgh in the same season.
‘‘We have a tougher challenge on our hands ahead of us this week and that is what we are worried about,’’ running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. ‘‘You can’t live in the past.’’
The emphasis figures to be on whether Brady, Randy Moss and the Patriots’ top-ranked passing attack can outscore Jones-Drew, Fred Taylor and the Jaguars’ second-ranked running game.
Jacksonville is a bigger team that plays a physical game. New England is older, especially at linebacker. The Jaguars will be without their most experienced linebacker, Mike Peterson, who will miss his eighth consecutive game with a broken right hand.
‘‘I always say youth is overrated,’’ 35-year-old Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said, ‘‘because you can run fast, but if you don’t know where you’re going, guess what? You’re just running in circles.’’