The AFC Championship Game was the seventh in a row that the Patriots played in, the Jaguars were in the playoffs for the first time in several years. Both of those statements were apparent during the critical junctures of the game, especially at the end of the first half and late in the game.
When all was said and done, the Patriots made the plays that they needed to make. Tom Brady showed once again, why he is Tom Brady and was absolutely brilliant in the fourth quarter, passing for almost as many yards at crunch time in the final quarter as Jacksonville allows in an entire game.
The Pats made the big plays at the big times because Bill Belichick is simply the best in the world at preparing his team and being aware of situational football scenarios and handling them like a 7-7 practice and not in a conference championship.
Jacksonville did none of those things. They cracked under the pressure, like so many teams do when playing the Patriots because they simply don’t make many mistakes and will rip your heart out when you do. The idea that the officials “gave this game to New England” is ridiculous. The Jaguars were up 14-3 and lost a key third-down conversion at midfield with a chance to put further distance between New England and themselves at halftime by taking a delay of the game penalty AFTER calling a timeout.
On the ensuing drive an obvious helmet-to-helmet hit and a needless shoving of a wide receiver out of bounds when the corner had body position. Watch the replay, the flag doesn’t come until the shove. 47 yards in penalties to Tom Brady before the half is a recipe for disaster.
In the second half, their play calling, so sharp in the first half go repetitive and predictable where they followed the same pattern. And the Patriots defense caught on and stuffed them in the fourth quarter. And after playing man in the first half, the defense, the top defense in the league got conservative and laid back in zones trying to stop the big play. Zone coverage against Brady is a recipe for going home early.
All of the hand-wringing over Tom Brady’s hand and his subsequent 12-stitches proved to be much ado about nothing which we said but were ignored in our pregame matchups. He was cool, calm and was at his best with the game on the line.
Brady put those worries to rest on the second play from scrimmage when he uncorked a seed for 31 yards to Brandin Cooks. His third and 18 throw to Danny Amendola was another rocket where the Jaguars were helpless to stop it.
Then down by 10 points with six minutes left, Brady ripped the Jaguars apart. Once he saw them going to those soft zone coverages to protect against the deep ball, the handwriting was on the wall. He found Amendola twice in those six minutes for scores. The game-winning touchdown pass was a beautiful throw, high across the back of the back of the end zone where only Amendola could catch it. Both made great plays to make it work.
Running Backs: C+
Dion Lewis wasn’t nearly the factor in this game that he has been down the stretch gaining only a total of 66 yards, with 34 on the ground and 32 more thru the air. The Jaguars front seven did a great job of not only giving he and the other backs precious little room to run, they wrapped up well too, limiting his yards after contact, an area where he has been outstanding.
Neither James White nor Rex Burkhead had a big day production wise as well. Big credit has to go to the Jaguars defense for shutting them down, especially in the passing game, an area that their defense has struggled in and the Patriots thought they could exploit.
James Develin made a huge block at crunch time, allowing Lewis to run for 18 yards and the first down to run out the clock
Wide Receiver: A-
What more can we say about Danny Amendola? The Patriots wide receiver with the best hands on the team was once again at his best on Sunday, catching both of Tom Brady’s touchdowns in the late game comeback. The game-winner was a beauty as he read the coverage got open in the back of the end zone and had to make a high leap with a great catch and had the awareness to get both feet down.
He also caught the ball that turned the game around, a 21-yard strike from Brady on a third and 18. He knew where the sticks were, and gave himself room to come back to the ball finding the open spot in the zone. He caught a backward pass and launched a 20-yard strike to Dion Lewis but Miles Jack jarred the ball loose for a fumble.
Brandin Cooks had a big day catching six passes for 100 yards and drew two defensive pass interference penalties totaling another 68 yards. But he had a terrible drop that cost the team points, perhaps even a touchdown. Phillip Dorsett played in only 3 snaps but had a huge 31-yard reception on a nicely thrown ball and an equally good catch.
Tight End: C
Rob Gronkowski was double covered early in the game before the coaches began to find ways of getting him open. He caught a really nice 21-yard pass down the seam and when Brady attempted to hit again deep down the field in the final minute and a half in the second quarter, Barry Church leveled him with a helmet to helmet hit while attempting to jar the ball loose.
Was it a dirty, targeted hit? No, but it was a penalty and the conspiracy theorists claiming it wasn’t are crazy. It was a clear helmet to helmet collision and intent has nothing to do with whether it was a penalty or not.
Dwayne Allen came on and was invisible until the Patriots final series. He threw a nice block on Dion Lewis’ game-clinching 18-yard run to seal the game.
Offensive Line: B
The Patriots offensive line had an up and down day but they got better, especially at protecting Tom Brady as the game wore on and kept the Jacksonville pass rush for the most part off of Brady. They allowed three sacks, but one was a coverage sack where Dante Fowler had the time to put a second move on Cam Fleming spinning sway and finally sacking Brady. Shaq Mason gave up a sack from Marcel Dareus, who bulled right past him and nearly another when he whiffed on a Myles Jack A-Gap blitz.
The run blocking on Sunday wasn’t opening any holes for the backs to exploit. The Jaguars front seven stuffed the run all day…until Lewis iced it.
Defensive Line: A-
This group led by DE Trey Flowers keeps getting better and better and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for playing solid football. Flowers just gets better as the game moves along, his conditioning and relentlessness are contagious for the group. He made nine tackles with a sack, a forced fumble and a tipped pass he nearly picked off.
The interior three linemen, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois and Malcom Brown were excellent against the run holding Leonard Fournette and the Jags rushing attack to just 3.1 yards per carry. They shut down the run in the second half and ramped up the QB pressure on Blake Bortles.
The unit had both good and bad moments during the game. Kyle Van Noy was solid throughout, notching a sack and a pass defensed but was trucked by Fournette on his touchdown run. James Harrison was solid in the running game and he combined on a sack late on Bortles and jarred the ball loose. But the Jags got the faster Corey Grant isolated on him in the passing game and they got a big chunk play of 20+ yards.
Elandon Roberts was on the field for much of the base looks in run support while Marquis Flowers saw his snaps dwindle this week as the coaches decided to go bigger with Fournette in the mix. The unit had trouble getting their drops in tune with the secondary as the shallow crossers of the Jags gave them fits all day.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had the play of the game and may have saved the season when he launched himself high in the air and knocked away Jacksonville’s final gasp on fourth down that sealed the deal. Dede Westbrook was in perfect position to haul in the pass at about the eight-yard line, He nearly had a pick earlier in the second half, but couldn’t come up with the ball.
The Jaguars consistently gave the corners fits with those shallow crossers that they couldn’t stop. All three corners were beaten on those. Malcolm Butler had good and bad moments, he was battling with Marqise Lee which was a highlight of the joint practices back in August.
Eric Rowe got roasted on a big 20+-yard chunk play from Allen Hurns who had him all discombobulated. He also gave up another big one to Corey Grant. But they tightened up in the second half. Rowe, too, nearly had a pick.
Devin McCourty was his normally solid self and made a few key tackles. Pat Chung was very good in run support but got caught in no man’s land on Marcedes Lewis’ 4-yard touchdown. Bortles had a run-pass option and rolled to his right where Eric Lee charged in. Chung was caught not knowing how to proceed and Bortles flipped the ball easily over to Lewis for the score.
The game plan was to stop the run and force the ball into Bortles’ hands. They accomplished the first part but the second? Allowing nearly 300 yards wasn’t part of the plan.
Special Teams: A-
The Patriots Special Teams were a very underrated reason why they were able to come away with a victory. Lost in all the silly hysteria over the penalty calls, was the stellar day by Ryan Allen. Allen dropped three punts inside the 20-yard line and didn’t have one of his six on the day returned. Because of the STs, the Patriots pinned Jacksonville on their last four drives no further out than the 16-yard line with the other three at either the 10 or 9-yard lines.
After pinning the Jags deep, Danny Amendola, already having a day for himself returned a punt from midfield, 20 yards to the Jacksonville 30. Stephen Gostkowski was good on a field goal and all three PATs but once again it was his kickoffs that pin the opponent’s deep. And teams keep taking the cheese, running out the ball from 1-3 yards deep in the end zone and the coverage units led by Matthew Slater keep making them pay.
Bill Belichick showed why he’s the master at clock management and situational football and his opponent was not. No one practices those type of scenarios more than the Patriots. And it shows… time after time, after time.
The adjustments made after halftime was good both offensively and defensively although the Jaguars helped by playing scared. Jacksonville played man coverage and did a great job in the first half. In the second, once Josh McDaniels began to empty the playbook, the Jaguars, afraid of giving up a big play, went to a zone. Brady eats zone coverage like candy….er avocado ice cream. And it wasn’t if it was going to happen (comeback) but when.
The Patriots coaches earned their pay by making the adjustments on offense, defense and special teams and the Jags did not. And decided to sit on a 10-point lead. Bad move.