JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Since Tom Brady became the Patriots' starting quarterback in 2001, New England has won five Super Bowls and posted an impressive playoff record of 26-9. However, there are four common threads in those nine postseason losses that provide a formula to beating Brady's Patriots in the playoffs. Here is how the Jaguars can upset the defending Super Bowl champions and punch their ticket to Minneapolis.
Imperfect Brady and pressure
In all 35 of his playoff games, Brady has thrown 66 touchdown passes and 31 interceptions. In the losses, he has thrown 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In all but two of the Patriots' playoff losses, Brady has been intercepted, including three times by Baltimore in the 2009 playoffs. How does this happen? Usually, it is because of pressure on Brady.
In Brady's postseason losses, he has been sacked 22 times, or 2.44 times per loss. In the wins, Brady has been sacked 1.5 times per game. While that may not seem like much of a difference--less than a sack per game--it does indicate the amount of pressure that is being put on by the opposing defense.
In the 2007 season, the Patriots rolled into the Super Bowl undefeated, including a win over the Jaguars in the playoffs. But the Giants, coached by Tom Coughlin and featuring a quartet of pass-rushing defensive linemen, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, sacked Brady five times as the Giants won the Super Bowl 17-14. In the 2010 playoffs, the Jets sacked Brady five times. While the Jets didn't feature the same level of defensive line talent as the Giants team did, they created sacks with the scheme, twice getting to Brady by blitzing a defensive back. That's not likely to often be the Jaguars' approach on Sunday. This season, Jacksonville has been judicious in its use of the blitz.
In 2015, the Denver Broncos beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game en route to a Super Bowl championship. The Broncos defense, which included current Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson, sacked Brady four times and forced a pair of interceptions.
It is essential to get pressure on Brady if the Jaguars are to win. Marcell Dareus, who faced Brady 10 times in his career while a member of the Buffalo Bills, said this week that he believes that getting in Brady's face and "being a gnat" in his vision is the best way to disrupt him.
Don't get in a shootout
In Brady's nine playoff losses, the Patriots have averaged 17.7 points per game. Only once in its losses has New England scored more than 21 points-a 38-34 loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts in the 2006 playoffs. If the game is a shootout, opposing teams have very little chance to beat the Patriots.
Since 2001, Brady has won 13 playoff games while scoring at least 30 points. It's not that the Patriots can't win low scoring games, but they almost never lose when the offense is clicking and Brady has time to operate.
Run the ball
In Brady's nine postseason defeats, the opposition has run the ball at least 26 times. On average, winning opponents have rushed 32 times per game including a high of 52 times by the Ravens in 2010. This puts the onus on Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars offensive line to control the ground game and keep Brady on the sidelines. Typically, getting a lot of carries goes hand in hand with moving the chains, but in only one of Brady's postseason losses did the opposing team have a dramatic third-down conversion rate--that same Ravens team that gained a new set of downs 10 times in 16 third-down plays. It appears that patience with the running game is as important as success with the running game.
In all of Brady's playoff losses, the Patriots failed to win the turnover battle. Three times, they forced as many turnovers as they committed. That time-tested formula for winning football games applies to high school football, just as well as it does to the NFL's modern dynasty. If you turn the ball over, your opponent is more likely to win. The Jaguars are plus-10 in the turnover margin this year. They excel at forcing turnovers, setting a franchise record with 33 total turnovers forced.
Each of these four points in the formula play right into the Jaguars' hands. The one that may be the most worrisome is the potential for the game to become a shootout. While the Jaguars have won a couple of high-scoring games, most notably last week in a 45-42 victory over the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs, that's not the way the Jaguars need to play against New England. A patient, measured approach on offense and an aggressive game on defense can lead the Jaguars to the Super Bowl.