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By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
December 21, 2009

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Patriots trade Bryan Stork to Redskins

Rob Gronkowski returns to Patriots practice

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Jimmy Garoppolo was among 10 players who stepped up in a big way against the Bears on Thursday Night.

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A sloppy, just-good-enough win in Buffalo on Sunday won't go down on any Team of the Decade DVD compilation but it was good enough for the Patriots to hold serve and virtually guarantee another playoff berth.

At times, the team looked like they were ready to put the foot on the gas and get a win that would fuel speculation on message boards and talk shows that the Patriots are getting their late-season act together as they consistently have done since 2001. Not this year. Not this team.

It's the kind of year for the Patriots where they are clearly not one of the premier teams in the League and a win or two in the playoffs will constitute a sufficient amount of juice squeezed out of this season's lemon. Forget the 2006 AFC Championship meltdown against the Colts for a minute and recall the euphoria of beating the Chargers in San Diego the week before. Got it? Good because that is realistically the scenario we are after at this point.

Mind you, I'm not complaining. It's Christmas week. Our team is still relevant and currently holds the number three seed in the AFC and therefore makes the giving and receiving of any Patriots gift this week a respectable action. The games keep getting bigger and more relevant. I'll take it starting with this monster of a game this Sunday against Jacksonville.

The Jaguars come into the game as one of six teams in the AFC at 7-7 and are playing in an elimination game. They will have three extra days of rest on the Patriots following their crushing Thursday night loss to the Colts. The game will be an excellent measuring stick to see if the Patriots can rise up at all at home against a quality opponent late in the season. If the Patriots can pocket wins the next two weeks against the Jaguars and Texans (also 7-7), it will go a long way to some much needed confidence that they can compete in the AFC playoff picture without sullying their reputation.

To do that, they will have to find a pass rush and game-long offensive consistency under the Christmas tree this week. And if an extra defensive lineman could be stuffed in their stocking that is hung by the chimney with care, that wouldn't hurt either.