They didn't make it easy on themselves or their fans, but the Patriots pulled off a stunning comeback to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon. What should have shocked the world has actually just become a routine occurrence in New England football games, as Tom Brady brought his team back from the edge of defeat on his way to another Super Bowl berth.
The Jaguars took control of the game early on with a 14-3 lead over the Patriots thanks to a couple of methodical and well-executed drives. New England would close the gap slightly, scoring just before halftime and, after an early Jaguars field goal in the second half, mounted an incredible 14 point comeback to beat the Jaguars and head to their third Super Bowl in four years.
The Jaguars offense was surprisingly efficient throughout the first half of the game. Blake Bortles led his team on a number of long scoring drives while playing mistake-free football. He took very few shots down the field but was accurate when he did. While he wasn't blowing the Patriots away, he was doing exactly what he needed to in order to push his team down the field. Jacksonville found success in short crossing routes, as well as play-action rollouts. They picked up 6-8 yards at a time, chewing up the clock as they beat the Patriots defense back. The second half was a different story, as the Patriots defense adjusted magnificently and took away the short rollout passes, daring Bortles and the Jaguars to chuck the ball down the field. The Patriots defensive line also had a much better second half, getting consistent pressure on Bortles and coming away with a handful of sacks. The Patriots D was also able to keep Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars running game in check, holding the star rookie to just 76 yards on 24 carries. While they didn't stifle him to the extent that they did to Derrick Henry last week, they did not allow Fournette to control the game, forcing Bortles to beat them with his arm, which he did until New England made a number of fantastic second half adjustments.
The weakness of the Jaguars offense was put on display during the last few drives of the game, as they were unable to push the ball down the field and seal the victory with a touchdown. Being forced to throw the ball multiple times rather than hand it off to Fournette, Jacksonville was unable to control the clock and their drives the way that they wanted and needed to.
The Patriots offense was the opposite story. After a successful drive to start the game, the Patriots slowed down immensely, unable to effectively move the ball. While they scored to close out the half, they lost Rob Gronkowski to a concussion suffered on a hit by Jaguars safety Barry Church. They struggled to find a rhythm throughout most of the second half, finally finding their groove halfway through the fourth quarter and putting up two touchdowns to overtake the Jaguars.
Here are some more highlights from the game:
- The Patriots running game was completely inept, a disappointing sign considering that the Jaguars had been just average against the run all season.
- The Patriots offensive line had a very good game in pass protection. Other than the three sacks that they gave up, they kept Brady relatively clean. Joe Thuney and Nate Solder, in particular, had great games, keeping star veteran Calais Campbell in check. Cameron Fleming also deserves recognition. While he did get beat by the smaller and faster Dante Fowler Jr. for one sack, he played well overall against one of the better defensive lines in the league.
- Brandin Cooks became just the third wide receiver all season to put up over 100 receiving yards against the Jaguars. While he had an extremely disappointing dropped pass in the third quarter that could have brought New England back earlier, his success should not be overlooked.
- The Patriots secondary had a very solid game for the most part. While they gave up a few intermediate passes, they did not allow the Jaguars to beat them over the top for back-breaking plays. Patrick Chung deserves special recognition for his coverage skills, which were on full display as the Patriots held the Jaguars in the fourth quarter. Stephon Gilmore also deserves a shoutout as he had a number of key pass breakups, including one on fourth-and-eighteen that gave New England the ball back and essentially sealed the game.
- The Patriots front seven did well against the run. They did not allow Fournette or the other Jaguars running backs to completely run wild and control the game. While Jacksonville was able to control the clock with their running game more than the Patriots would have liked, Matt Patricia's defense was able to hold them in check.
- The New England front seven did struggle early on against crossing routes and short, roll-out play action. However, their second-half adjustments were fantastic, as they prevented Bortles from gaining a rhythm with those routes in the third and fourth quarters.
- Danny "Playoff" Amendola had his second fantastic playoff game in a row, finishing with seven catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. He also came down with an absolutely crucial 21-yard play on a third-and-eighteen in the fourth quarter. His toe-tapping game-winning touchdown was a thing of beauty, and it is clear that he has picked up the playoff slack created by the absence of Julian Edelman.
- Tom Brady had a pedestrian first three quarters as he battled 12 stitches in his hand and a fantastic opposing defense. However, the fourth quarter saw him throw for 138 yards and two touchdowns as he orchestrated a 10 point comeback. It really shouldn't be surprising at this point, but it really is true that you are never out of a game when Tom Brady is at the helm, no matter how dire the situation may be.
The Patriots did not play nearly their best game. They had a lackluster performance on offense and an underwhelming first half on defense. However, they showed a resiliency and fight that a young and inexperienced team like the Jaguars was unable to match. They are now set to play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52 in Minnesota, in a game that could put a bow on the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports.
Until next time - B$