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Strong finish saves Jaguars defense

Smmmmeeeeeennn-geee has become a popular roar at Alltel Stadium. But it was never so loud as Sunday afternoon, near the end of Jacksonville's 25-10 AFC wild-card win.

With eight minutes left and New England driving to tighten the 19-10 score, Jacksonville defensive end Joel Smeenge harassed quarterback Scott Zolak out of the pocket, smashed him toward the ground and stripped the ball from his grip.

Smmmmeeeeeennn-geee!

"I got good pressure from the line, good help from the DBs," said Smeenge, who struggled with a sore shoulder. "I just happened to be there."

The sack-and-strip _ which turned into a fumble recovery from Tony Brackens and a field goal from Mike Hollis _ signaled the renewed game dominance of the Jacksonville defense, which roared in the first half but meowed in the third quarter.

And it signaled the end for the Patriots, who garnered just 12 more yards in the game.

"Those guys on the other side of the ball made plays when they had to," Patriots wide receiver Shawn Jefferson said. "That's the bottom line."

The Jaguars allowed just 54 yards and one first down in the first half. The key was stopping New England's 154-yard-per-game running attack _ hitting the gaps before halfback Robert Edwards could get through them and rattling the nerves of Zolak, who was filling in for Drew Bledsoe (fractured finger).

"(The key) was just getting guys to the ball," linebacker Kevin Hardy said. "Everybody was just running to the ball and attacking. Robert Edwards is the type of running back that is not going to go down on the first hit."

But the Jacksonville defense slowed in the third quarter. Zolak threw underneath zone coverages. The Patriots held Jacksonville to consecutive three-and-out series while scoring on drives of 85 and 45 yards.

"We were concerned and it didn't really surprise me when that happened," defensive tackle John Jurkovic said. "We've tended all year to have lapses. We tend to come out on defense and have a good first half then let up after halftime.

"I knew we needed a spark."

It came from the offense.

Five plays after kicker Adam Vinatieri cut Jacksonville's lead to 12-10, Mark Brunell connected with Jimmy Smith for a 37-yard touchdown. The defense took that spark back onto the field.

"On the sidelines, guys were getting a little antsy, guys were starting to get riled a little bit, bickering a little bit, starting to say, "What's going on?' " Hardy said. "That's when guys stepped in and said "We just gotta calm down and just play our game,' and the offense came with the big spark, the big long touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith, and we just came out and did our thing after that."

Indeed, the defense barely sputtered after that play. The Patriots' final four possessions ended with a punt, Smeenge's chant, a sack on fourth down and an interception.

"Bottom line, we won the game," Jurkovic said. "We stopped the run and did what we needed to advance."

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