January 07, 2006
A Record Setting Night As Champs Move On
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- It’s cool to see a team play just so-so on offense and still win by 25.
The Jacksonville Jaguars came into the game with a good sound defensive game plan. Defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson did what they were asked to do. The Jaguar secondary, which often times had a 3-3-5 nickel package out there, blanketed Patriot receivers for much of the game. Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk were basically non-factors in the game.
And yet the Patriots won in a walk, 28-3 on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. They further cemented their legacy as the best team in the league right now, and perhaps the best team of the last 50 years. Best of all, they still won big despite the great effort by the Jaguars who obviously were ticked off at the Patriots’ attitude last week and wanted to make a statement on the champions’ home turf but simply could not do so.
By winning, the Patriots set an NFL record with their tenth straight postseason win, breaking the record of nine by the Green Bay Packers from 1961 to 1968. Bill Belichick won his tenth straight postseason game as head coach and Tom Brady his tenth straight as starting quarterback, both new NFL records and both breaking Packer records of nine each set by Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr, respectively.
Perhaps even more enjoyable was the play of Willie McGinest. He registered 4 ½ sacks, setting an NFL record for most sacks in a postseason game. He finished the night with 15 career postseason sacks, passing Bruce Smith for the top spot in NFL history (since the league began keeping sacks as an official stat since 1982). Will Mac was flying all over the place all evening long, and spearheaded a powerful and potent Patriot defensive attack which kept Jacksonville out of the end zone all game long.
The Patriots now await the outcome of Sunday’s Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game to find out where they head next week. If the Bengals win, the Patriots head to Indianapolis, while a Steeler win sends the Patriots to Denver. Those two teams battle at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati Sunday at 4:30 eastern time.
Two big plays basically decided this game, both coming in the second half. On their second drive of the third quarter, facing third and 17 at his own 37, Brady dropped back and dumped a little toss over the middle to Benjamin Watson. He took the pass at the 45, then ran into injured linebacker Mike Peterson. Watson was able to shake him off and head for the right sideline and the first down marker. At the marker, Gerald Sensibaugh bumped into Watson, but the Patriot tight end again shook him off. Watson found some daylight down the right sideline and ran about 20 more yards before turning up inside. He was then able to outrun Kenny Wright to the end zone, completing a 63-yard touchdown reception which gave the Patriots a 21-7 lead.
Seven plays later, Byron Leftwich had the Jaguars into Patriot territory, and was facing fourth down and four at the Patriot 31. Leftwich dropped back and tried to find Ernest Wilford in the right flat. Asante Samuel dropped back into zone coverage. Wilford went deep, Samuel briefly went with him. Leftwich threw the ball to Reggie Williams in the right flat, but Samuel suddenly pulled up in the zone and happened to be right where Leftwich threw the ball. He made the interception and ran untouched 73 yards for the final scoring play of the game. Samuel disguised his coverage well, and Leftwich was duped into committing a devastating brain cramp.
Otherwise, the Jaguars played the Patriots pretty evenly on defense. It was only 7-3 at the half, Brady completed only 7 of 17 passes and a 74.1 passer rating. The Patriots had a decided edge in field position, but did not take advantage. Leftwich, meanwhile, was able to find his tall receivers on sideline passes with regularity and was 11 of 15 for a 91.3 passer rating The Patriot defense made enough plays to keep the Jaguars out of the end zone when they needed to, which is why the Patriots were able to keep the lead all game long.
When this game is rehashed and analyzed, the ultimate deciding factor in this game may be in Jack Del Rio’s decision to play Leftwich at quarterback instead of the more mobile and healthy David Garrard. Leftwich hurt his left ankle a few weeks back against Arizona, and hobbled all game long. This perhaps played a major factor in why a 34-year-old linebacker was able to set two sack records in this game (in fairness, 1 ½ of McGinest’s sacks came against Garrard). While Leftwich did not play badly, his lack of mobility proved decisive in this game.
Garrard came in for the final two offensive series with the game hopelessly lost. He completed 3 of 8 passes, and would have had more but for a few drops (including Matt Jones at the goal line on fourth down). Garrard’s passer rating was 68.8, only seven points higher than Leftwich. But he threw with more authority, and was able to scramble better. Had he been allowed to start, it might have changed the complexion of the game.
Brady continues to show everyone why he is the best in the game. All game long, he took only what Jacksonville’s defense gave him. The end result was three touchdown passes, 15 of 27 passing, 201 yards, and a 116.4 passer rating. Brady made no mistakes at all, managed the game perfectly, and he himself was a victim of some dropped passes (Deion Branch dropped a 60-yard touchdown bomb on the penultimate play of the first half).
In addition to Watson’s gem, Brady threw scoring tosses to the venerable Troy Brown (second quarter, 11 yards) and David Givens (third quarter, 8 yards; Givens now has the third longest string of consecutive postseason games with a touchdown catch in league history). With the running game non-existent (Dillon averaged 2.4 yards per carry, but Faulk did average 8.2 yards per carry on six carries) for the most part, Brady was able to pick apart the suspect Jaguar secondary by either stepping up in the pocket or rolling out to avoid the tall Jaguar tackles.
But the night still belonged to McGinest. To see a 12-year veteran have that kind of night can only serve to inspire the rest of the defense all throughout the postseason. If the Patriots do head for Indianapolis next weekend, the Patriots will need all the defensive inspiration they can get. McGinest has been a clubhouse leader all throughout his time here in New England, and this kind of positive example setting will take the Patriots a long way towards a record third straight Super Bowl win that they are seeking.
One down, three to go. Jacksonville can no longer play the disrespect card because the champions merely did what they do.
But breaking a few records along the way, what the heck. Nothing like a little gravy to pour over the main course.
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