FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – If there was an early indication of how the AFC Championship game against the Patriots would go it was how the Jaguars would survive the original onslaught from New England. Gillette Stadium can be a tough place to play when the Patriots are rolling and the noise meter is rising.
Giving New England the ball after winning the toss, the Patriots zipped downfield, using mismatches putting wide receivers on linebackers in four- and five-wide formations. Tom Brady found the open receivers to drive it inside the ten.
But the defense came up with a big stop and forced a field goal and a 3-0 Patriots lead.
Right away the Jaguars offense responded behind Blake Bortles. On their second possession, mixing the pass to receivers and running backs and using Leonard Fournette in the middle of the line, the Jaguars scored to make it 7-3. Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was mixing up the calls and using Corey Grant going wide for big chunks of yardage. The Jaguars clearly knew the Patriots couldn’t keep up with Grant on the edge and he burned them. A nice play call for Marcedes Lewis who blocked then released to the end zone gave the 12-year veteran the first post-season touchdown catch of his career.
On the next possession the Jaguars did a lot of the same, this time Grant catching a pass in the flat and taking it to the four. Fournette bulled it in from there to give the Jaguars a 14-3 lead.
They are the Patriots so you knew they’d get something going. After not targeting Rob Gronkowski for the entire game, Tom Brady threw it to him 4 of the next five plays. A couple of incompletions and nice catch then a vicious hit by Barry Church on a ball up the seam was called for unnecessary roughness. Church probably needed to go lower there but Gronkowski left the game and didn’t return after halftime. Brady threw a ball down the left sideline to Brandin Cooks that was out of bounds but A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference. A really questionable call, the ball was probably uncatchable and Cooks ran himself out of bound as the ball was in the air.
A couple of more completions and James White scored from the one to make it 14-0.
On the Pats scoring drive the Jaguars defense was called for 47 yards of penalties. Seemed rather conspicuous.
Although there were 55 seconds on the clock, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone chose to kneel on it and go to halftime with a four-point lead.
The pass interference play, as well as a delay of game on a critical third down catch that was negated by the penalty, were two of the key plays in the half.
Getting the ball to start the second half, the Jaguars moved it; converting some third downs leading to a 54-yard Josh Lambo field goal and a 17-10 Jaguars lead. Marrone showed a lot of confidence in Lambo there. He sure didn’t want to give the Patriots the ball at midfield.
The rest of the third quarter was a lot of give and take but the Jaguars defense found a way to keep the Patriots from crossing midfield.
With the ball inside their own ten a couple of times, the Jaguars did just enough to keep New England at bay before driving the ball to the Patriots 25 yard line and getting another Lambo field goal to make it 20-10.
Just when it looked like New England had found a rhythm, including a trick, throwback play, Myles Jack stole the ball and forced a turnover keeping the Patriots off the board.
But the offense couldn’t do anything with it and punted it back to the Patriots.
That’s when Brady started doing his thing. Without any blitz pressure from the Jaguars, Brady threw it all over the field, including another throwback play and scored on a nine-yard TD Pass to make it 20-17.
In the 4th quarter the Jaguars running game disappeared. It was obvious the Patriots weren’t going to let Fournette get going. They swarmed Bortles on passing downs and the Patriots switched the field. A very mediocre punt by Brad Nortman was returned by Danny Amendola to the Jaguars 30.
From there a methodical Brady led offense moved it to the 5 yard line where Amendola caught a TD pass in the back of the end zone for a 24-20 lead.
With the ball, three timeouts and the 2 minute warning, the Jaguars had a chance to win the game but came up short despite a good effort. Bortles 4th down pass to Dede Westbrook was a little short after a scramble and it was deflected away.
With their three timeouts, the Jaguars were able to keep over a minute and a half on the clock but on third down they lost the edge and James White ran for a first down.
Sitting in the second row of the press box, Jaguars VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said, loudly, “Are you serious,” and packed his stuff, loudly, and stomped out, loudly.
Heartbreaking stuff, but classic Patriots and Tom Brady, doing just enough to send the Jaguars home and return to the Super Bowl as defending champions.
While heartbreaking, not completely discouraging. These opportunities don’t come around all the time, but without much change on the roster, the Jaguars could be good for a while.