By: Ian Logue
Coming off of last Sunday night’s frustrating loss to the San Francisco 49ers, most people thought the Patriots were poised to come out and have a big day against a lowly Jaguars team that was 2-12 before they took the field against them.
Instead the Jaguars picked up where the 49ers left off and were extremely physical, making life tough on the Patriots in the first half and even brought this one right down to the wire before New England’s defense managed to do just enough to keep them out of the endzone on their final drive for the victory.
After the game you would never have guessed they won it by what you saw from Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork, who were both clearly upset at the way their team played in this one. There’s no question that the fact the Jaguars are so bad was the reason New England was able to play poorly yet still escape with a win. Obviously it’s been a long season but they still need to try and put together some momentum heading into the postseason, especially if they hope to go deep into the playoffs.
Miami has been playing better in recent weeks and in all likelihood next weekend’s game is going to be a little tougher than their first meeting a few weeks ago. Without getting into too much detail, let’s get on with it:
1) Obviously next week’s game just got a little more interesting – This year in the NFL has been nothing short of crazy in terms of the way things have gone on a week-to-week basis. The Patriots went from seemingly out of contention of a first round bye to potentially playing for a number one seed next weekend against Miami. After Houston’s loss to Minnesota – among a couple of other scenarios – New England is now in a situation where they can earn a No. 2 seed if Houston loses to the Colts next weekend, and even the No. 1 seed should the Broncos also fall to the Chiefs. The latter is certainly more unlikely unless the Chiefs players want to send Romeo Crennel off in style, but considering how bleak things seemed after their loss to the 49ers, the fact the Patriots are even in this situation is amazing. But then again, it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t take care of business against the Dolphins.
2) You have to love Vince Wilfork – Wilfork had one of those moments on Sunday that just makes you really appreciate what a great player, and more importantly, what a great teammate he is as well. With the Jaguars threatening to tie things up Chandler Jones hit Chad Henne on a fourth and goal play from the Patriots 10-yard line. Patrick Chung managed to pick off the pass and killed the drive, but it was what happened during the return that set off Wilfork. Jaguars offensive lineman Steve Vallos hit Trevor Scott from behind toward the end of the play, knocking him face-first into the ground. Unfortunately for Vallos, he did it right in front of Wilfork who took exception to it and retaliated – in a big way – against him and it lead to a penalty for unnecessary roughness. Wilfork didn’t care, and he said as much after the game. “That was protecting my teammate, plain and simple,” Wilfork said during his press conference. “You’re not going to sit right in front of me and take a cheap shot at my guy with me standing behind you, that won’t fly. Plain and simple.” It was his 6th penalty of the year, but one that will definitely be remembered by fans who love the type of player – and person – he really is.
Tom Brady’s gotten knocked around quite a bit in recent weeks. (FILE:USPresswire)
3) Brady’s gotten hammered these last two weeks – After sitting out practice this week with a sore shoulder, it was tough watching the Jaguars once again and take shots at him. Obviously teams have seen the film and they know that by knocking him around that’s the best chance they have to force him to make a bad throw. It’s certainly been even more evident in recent weeks and it’s definitely a little alarming considering how important he obviously is to this football team. Head coach Bill Belichick was asked about it after the game and deflected it by saying they “always try to protect the quarterback” and “that’s part of football. Guys get hit.” Very true, but it’s been happening a little more than normal recently, some of which have been pretty big. That definitely can’t continue.
4) Watching Aqib Talib on Sunday was brutal – After not being able to get through warm ups, cornerback Aqib Talib started Sunday’s game on the sideline as he continues battling through a hip injury. Instead after watching his team struggle in pass coverage during the early part of the contest Talib ended up on the field anyway, and was seen clutching his hip while chasing down Jacksonville’s receivers. It’s really too bad the offense wasn’t able to have a big day against them and allow Talib to sit this one out, but give him a lot of credit. He fought through the pain and helped them earn a win and it’s tough not to have even more respect for him after Sunday’s effort.
5) The Jaguars apparently didn’t feel they had a shot to rush between the guards or tackles against the Patriots – Looking at the rushing chart the Jaguars apparently planned to either run outside or pound the middle against New England, and that’s about it. It’s probably the first time all season I’ve ever seen a chart so lopsided as most teams tend to alternate a lot of the rushes between the guards and tackle, while also mixing in runs straight up the middle. Jacksonville didn’t do that. Here’s how it broke down: Left End 1 carry, 24 yards, Left Tackle 0 Carries, Left Guard 0 carries, Middle 12 carries, 40 yards (3.3 avg), Right Guard 1 carry, 16 yards, Right Tackle 0 carries, Right End 7 carries, 23 yards (3.3 avg). It worked out as the Patriots held the Jaguars to 16 carries of 5 yards or less, including 4 for either no gain or a loss.
6) The return of Rob Gronkowski is much needed – I’ve mentioned this previously but Gronk’s absence has hurt them both in the passing game and in protection, and it’s pretty clear they really need him back in the lineup. With Edelman also out teams are absolutely pounding Wes Welker and it’s cut down on the opportunities for them to create match-up issues to open up their passing game. To make matters worse, for those times where Brady needs a little extra help keeping pass rushers away Gronk’s physical style of play also takes away that aspect of their game as well. There’s a reason why they’ve invested so much in him and that’s because of the many aspects of his game that he brings. With the Miami game seemingly holding a little more importance there’s probably a good chance we’ll see him finally get some snaps next Sunday.
7) Another milestone for Wes Welker – It’s tough watching Welker knowing that the Patriots will have to spend the offseason figuring out exactly how to replace him. Obviously the plan for now is to just enjoy what he brings to this football team for this year, but watching him battle three defenders to make a play makes you appreciate what he managed to accomplish Sunday. He reached another milestone thanks to his 10 catch performance, giving him his 18th career game with 10 or more receptions, putting him ahead of Jerry Rice for most all time. He’s definitely a special player, and with teams coming after him each week he somehow manages to still play well. It’s just amazing to watch.
8) Deion Branch just doesn’t have it anymore – After last season I thought for sure that was Branch’s last hurrah, especially after he was let go before this season. Instead injuries have thrust him back onto the field, but he just doesn’t have the speed or quickness to get any type of separation. It’s painful to watch because I’d rather remember him for the player he was instead of the player he currently is. One would have to believe this really will be his last year, and let’s hope the receiving core doesn’t deal with any further injuries as they begin their playoff run.
9) Chandler Jones had a good afternoon – Jones is still getting his feet wet after getting back into the line-up, but Sunday was definitely one of his better games since he’s returned from his injury. That’s good news for Patriots fans who have high hopes for the rookie to come up big during the postseason. It was a little easy to forget about him when they were having success rushing the quarterback while he was out, but there’s no denying they’re definitely better off now that he’s back. The fact he appears to be getting stronger each week should have any fan excited about what to expect in the coming weeks.
10) Not a great day for Brandon Bolden – After coming back from his suspension for using a banned substance Bolden saw some action Sunday against Jacksonville, but carried 5 times for just 3 yards, including a loss of a yard on a 2nd and 1 play at the Jacksonville 1 yard line. Obviously it will take him a little time before he gets comfortable again, but it certainly wasn’t the performance he was probably hoping for, especially for a guy who was averaging 5 yards a carry. Hopefully he settles in and is able to get back to where he was before he was suspended.
11) Ridley bounced back well Sunday– After a rough outing against the 49ers, Ridley had a good afternoon against the Jacksonville, carrying 18 times for 84 yards. He didn’t show much hesitation and hit the hole hard against the Jaguars, which was good to see considering all the criticism he received this week. Although having talked to a large amount of people who still think he fumbled twice last weekend, I’ll reiterate that he fumbled just once on what was in essence a textbook tackle where the defender put their helmet right on the ball in wet weather. Ridley likely learned his lesson, and if you’ve seen any interviews or witnessed his words off the field, he’s an intelligent guy who has the desire to work hard and be a great running back. After seeing what he’s done this season it’s hard not to be excited about what the future holds, and people need to stop being so critical about a guy who clearly has a tremendous career ahead.
12) Miami’s comments after the last game raise the stakes – Speaking of Ridley, it’s going to be interesting to see how he does Sunday against Miami. Ridley carried a season high 10 times in the fourth quarter against them a few weeks ago, and there were guys on Miami’s defense who felt disrespected about the fact Ridley kept running their way over that span. He was a key factor in running out the clock in that one and you can bet the Patriots will run him their way again this time around as well if they can’t stop him – regardless of how “disrespected” the Dolphins feel. However, Miami was tough against Ridley early on in that game and it wasn’t an easy win for New England, with the final score ending in a mirror image of the Jacksonville game. Fortunately with the stakes now raised hopefully we’ll see the Patriots start off a little better against them this time around and end the year with something to build on heading into the playoffs.