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January 17, 2013

Pats work on kick coverage, defense late in half

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s a bad time for the New England Patriots to allow points late in halves and long kickoff returns throughout the game.

Fix that fast or the Baltimore Ravens and speedster Jacoby Jones could run them right out of the postseason.

The Patriots advanced to Sunday’s AFC championship game with a 41-28 win over the Houston Texans despite giving up kickoff returns of 94 and 69 yards — the longest against them this season. They won even though they allowed 10 points in the last 1:15 of the first half and 15 points in the last 12 minutes of the game.

The Ravens moved on with a 38-35 double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos after Jones caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco with 31 seconds left in regulation.

That’s the same Jones who led the NFL in average kickoff return yardage (30.7) and brought back two of them for touchdowns. Yep, the same guy who drew a defensive pass interference call at the Patriots’ 7-yard line in Week 3, setting up Justin Tucker’s 27-yard field goal on the final play. Baltimore (12-6) won that game, 31-30.

New England (13-4) can’t afford another loss.

So coach Bill Belichick is emphasizing, as he does every week, the need to stop kickoff returners and keep teams from scoring with time running out in either half.

“We always think that the end of the half can get a little different than the rest of the game because of situational play,” he said Tuesday. “Also, sometimes offensively, teams change their method of attack and what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and that kind of thing. So you have to adapt and adjust to what they do.

“We have to do what we’re doing better. It’s definitely a point of emphasis and I’m sure it will be important in this game. We’ll definitely work on it.”

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