By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 13, 2008

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FOXBOROUGH -- Two misfires. And one was a drop by Wes Welker.

Playing seemingly without a care in the world, working his way through the depleted Jacksonville Jaguar defense with near flawless ability and execution, Tom Brady once again showed that he is at the top of his profession, and how valuable he is to the New England Patriots. Brady enabled the Patriots to overcome a defense which shut down the Jaguar run attack well but was riddled by the passing of David Garrard, and the Patriots managed to prevail on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, 31-20 in the 2007 AFC Divisional playoff round.

The Patriots ran their overall 2007 record to 17-0, and now await the winner of Sunday's game between Indianapolis and San Diego to find out who will oppose the Patriots next Sunday at home in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots won their tenth straight home postseason game, and their third in three tries over the Jaguars.

Brady established a new NFL postseason record for completion percentage in a game, hitting on 26 of 28 passes for a 92.8 completion percentage. This incredible evening bested the previous high of 88 percent, set by Phil Simms of the Giants in Super Bowl XXI. As Simms himself looked on in the CBS broadcast booth, Brady managed to move the Patriots literally at will against a Jaguar defense missing Marcus Stroud and Mike Peterson, and with an ailing John Henderson. Brady finished with a quarterback rating of 141.4, and you have to wonder how he didn't get a perfect 158.3 score.

Brady had the great numbers, but the real offensive hero of the evening was Laurence Maroney. Maroney rushed for 122 yards on 22 carries and a 5.5 yard average per carry. Because of how the game flowed (the incredibly quick game was over in just under three hours), Maroney's ability to gain well on the ground and thus eat up a lot of clock proved equally as critical as Brady's ability to hit passes as if he were a robot.

The problem for the Patriots was that Garrard was having the game of his life on the other side of the ball, hitting passes at a little more mortal level but enough to give the Patriot pass defense fits all night long. The Patriots did seemingly what they had to do, which was to shut down the rushing attack of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and they did just that (Taylor had 47 yards on 13 carries, Jones-Drew 91 yards on six carries). They dared Garrard to beat them through the air, but it was a dare which almost blew up in their faces.

On some occasions this season, the Patriots have shown vulnerability in pass coverage. With Randall Gay playing in place of the injured Ellis Hobbs, he and Asante Samuel played the Jaguar receivers very loosely with fairly large cushions. Safeties James Sanders and Rodney Harrison (Sanders was playing free safety in place of the injured Eugene Wilson) played a deep cover-two, with Brandon Meriweather coming in in nickel packages or if Harrison was needed in the box to help stuff the run. This deep cover-two combined with the cushions the corners were giving made for lots of open receivers, and Garrard was hitting them most all night long, even when he was under tremendous pressure from the Patriot pass rush.

A good indicator of how Garrard's night went was on the first touchdown of the game. Facing third down and goal at the Patriot eight-yard line, Garrard was under siege and in the grasp of Mike Vrabel. Vrabel brought Garrard down, but just before his knee hit the ground, he was able to rifle a shot towards the end zone. Matt Jones had broken free from Gay and was wide open in the end zone. He caught the pass and the Jaguars led, 7-0. Replays showed that Bill Belichick might have thrown his red flag as Garrard's shin was on the ground but not his knee. But Belichick opted against challenging, and the play stood.

Again, how was Jones wide open, and how was Garrard able to get him the ball? The Patriots almost always get a sack in this situation, and inside the ten, few receivers are able to break away from coverage that easily. What this underscored was the Patriots' insistence on stopping the run first, and not giving the Jaguar receivers their due attention.

For most of the game, the Patriots did not waver in this philosophy. Never did the corners play the receivers tight, preferring instead to stop the run and hope that they hold Jacksonville to field goals. This won't work next week if Indianapolis comes to town, as Peyton Manning and his receivers will go through the Patriot defense like a knife goes through tofu.

Because of this, the Patriot offensive philosophy was perfect. Instead of going to Randy Moss for one big play after another, the Patriots instead used Maroney and a steady diet of short passes to run the clock and to keep Garrard off the field. The Patriots were able to score touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, and should have had five of five except for a drive which stalled at the Jacksonville 18 in the second quarter, and Stephen Gostkowski pushed a 35-yard field goal attempt wide right, the first postseason miss of his brief NFL career.

This is not to say that the defense didn't have its moments. In the first quarter, Ty Warren sacked Garrard and forced a fumble, which Vrabel recovered at the Jacksonville 29. Harrison, who had two personal fouls called against him in the game, sealed the game with an interception with 3:46 left in the game. Garrard did not have the bad stretch he had last week at Pittsburgh, but against Brady, he needed to be more perfect than his counterpart and simply could not be asked to do that.

The Patriots continue to ride their offense as they venture towards the first 19-0 season in NFL history. No matter who they play next week, the Patriots will have to step up their pass coverage if they are to make it to Phoenix in February. Both the Colts and the Chargers, who played the Patriots earlier this season, can hold the Patriots under 30 points with their defenses. It is up to the defense to play their best game of the season next week.

You can bet that Brady will be doing his thing. 26 of 28 is really amazing. He may need 28 of 28 next week.


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