We’ve seen this statistic before, and we should all see it again: In the 16 seasons Tom Brady has started at quarterback, the Patriots have gone to the Super Bowl eight times. In other words, every season with Brady as a starter has had a 50 percent chance of ending up in the championship game. That stat is so nuts it makes peanut butter jealous.
Here they sit atop the American Football Conference once more after a hard-fought, 24-20 win over the estimable Jaguars and the underrated and over-scrutinized quarterback Blake Bortles. New England saw their 3-0 lead get turned into a 14-3 deficit in a frustrating first half. Patriots receivers couldn’t get open and, when given short passes, had about as much space to roam as a Roomba in a closet. On defense, the home team had trouble with Jacksonville’s game plan, as Bortles executed more drop-offs than a paper route. Where the speedy Jaguars defense didn’t miss tackles, the Patriots did, helping the visitors string together a seven-play, 76-yard drive and a 10-play, 77-yard drive.
New England needed a break, and they got one near the end of the half. Bortles seemed to convert a third and seven pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis for 12 yards, but the QB got called for a delay of game penalty. The ensuing third and 12 play resulted in a sack from D-lineman Adam Butler, forcing a punt that gave New England the ball back at their own 15 with 2:02 left.
This seemed like the scene from the action movie where the hero uncovers a secret panel of weapons that’s always curiously well-lit. Brady went to work, hitting Brandin Cooks for 10 yards, Danny Amendola for eight, and James White for five. The Jaguars got penalized on two plays in a row: unnecessary roughness on a concussive helmet hit to tight end Rob Gronkowski, and pass interference on Cooks. Brady found Cooks for another 12-yarder, then handed off to White for a one-yard cruise through the defense and a 14-10 halftime deficit.
Then, a curious decision by Jacksonville. With 55 seconds on the clock, they opted to have their QB take a knee. Considering their field goal kicker Josh Lambo looked like he could make a field goal from CBS Scene (his 54-yarder in the third had a lot of oomph left in it), a couple of downfield shots from Bortles seemed to be in order.
And that, I suppose, is what separated these teams. In a situation where they could have called on their quarterback to try his hand, the Jaguars folded. Maybe not the tone to set when taking on the favorite in their home stadium. New England’s defense tightened up, allowing only two field goals in the second half, while their offense got rolling (or as close as it could get vs. this defense) in the fourth quarter. In hindsight, it’s funny how former Patriot and current NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest got some criticism from a local radio network for his prediction that the Jaguars would win the first half, while the Patriots would win the second half. Seems pretty straightforward now.
The Patriots travel to Minnesota to take on the Eagles in what some are calling a rematch of Super Bowl 39. Only one player from that game remains in the league. I’ll let you guess who. (Edit: Actually, two, with former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri now on the Colts. Get it together, Warner!)
In The Eye Of The Storm There Is Tom: Averaging 2.4 yards per rush? Fine. Getting your best pass-catcher knocked out of the game in the first half? Okay. Going up against the best pass defense in the league? He’ll figure it out. Brady went 26 of 38 (68 percent) for 290 yards and two touchdowns on the day, but some up-close numbers show that Brady was clutch. Even more clutch than what I used when learning how to drive. “You’ll burn it out, Chris.”
All right, Dad! Jeez!
Brady went six-for-six in the red zone for 31 yards and two touchdowns (tip of the cap to PatsFans.com). Trailing by three, a 15-yard screen pass got the Patriots down to the 15 with 4:19 left. The QB darted a pass to a diving Amendola for eight yards. On second and two, Brady – God bless him – took the ball himself for the first down.
That sneak gets overlooked, but it was the perfect play call. On second down, if you don’t get it, you can try again. The clock continues to run, giving the Jaguars less time to score. I’m not good at predicting New England’s plays, but when Brady got under center, I hoped he’d sneak it. It just made the most sense.
Once the home team got a first down at the visitors’ five-yard line, a touchdown seemed inevitable. Said score came in the form of a leaping catch by Amendola, pulling a back-line Nutcracker to make sure both toes touched inbounds. (You can see that play here.)
What impresses about Brady isn’t just the completions, but the fact that, besides a few early, off-target offerings, most of his incomplete throws hit their marks. (You can see Brady’s highlights here.) Quick tangent: when I was a teenager, we used to go swimming on the first sunny day in April (we were not bright individuals). One year, I dove into the surf and cut my hand on a shell. The laceration didn’t require stitches, and, over 30 years later, I can still see a thin white line traversing my palm up toward my thumb. I remember bandaging my hand and taking it easy that week. Hard to imagine playing a football game, much less passing against 11 people who have worked all their lives to get into a position to stop you.
Amen-And-Halle-Dola: Saying Amendola’s seven receptions, 84 yards, and two touchdowns amounted to a good performance is like saying Mad Max: Fury Road is a good movie. There’s so much there that needs to get reviewed, broken down, and discussed. Maybe the most concise way to do it is to look at his 21-yard reception in the third quarter.
Trailing 20-10 with 10:49 left in the game, New England faced a third and 18 – daunting against any team, much less the Jaguars. Brady dropped back, shuffled forward to buy time, and hit Amendola as he cut across the middle and ended up wearing safety Tashaun Gipson as a backpack. The receiver slid low and came up with the ball to convert the most crucial first down of the game. Making good on third and 18 against the NFL’s best pass defense? What more can you say?
Now near midfield, the Patriots seemed to loosen up a bit, with Brady hitting Phillip Dorsett on a 31-yard flea-flicker before going back to Amendola, who contorted himself like a wrung-out beach towel to snatch a 14-yard pass, then delivered a nine-yard catch-and-run TD across the middle. That made it 20-17, Jacksonville, with 8:44 remaining.
Brady went 6-for-6 on the opening field goal drive. The biggest play of that possession happened on fourth and two, a 20-yard over-the-shoulder catch by Amendola on a wheel route up the sideline. In a game where everything had to unfold a certain way, that first down and resulting score looms large.
Oh, and Amendola had a 20-yard punt return to set up his own winning touchdown. He also threw a key block on White’s touchdown run: you can see him clear out cornerback Aaron Colvin at the 8:17 mark of the game highlights. Plus he completed a pass. Did you know that? It’s true. You can watch Amendola’s big plays here.
And The Rest: Cooks had six catches for 100 yards and elicited two big pass interference penalties. Dorsett leapt up for his 31-yard grab like an iguana jumping for a rock ledge (anyone else watching “Planet Earth II?”). With 9:43 left in the third quarter, Chris Hogan pulled in a 17-yard pass on a crossing pattern for the team’s first third-down conversion of the day. As for Gronk, the Jaguars limited him to one reception for 21 yards, as his presence changed the defense. (Actually hard to fathom how Brady succeeded in the second half without him.) Signs point to recovery for Gronkowski, who can put the extra week to good use.
More More Gilmore: How do you like it? Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had one very good and one excellent play Sunday. On the first, at the 6:41 mark of the fourth, he ran stride for stride with waterbug/pass-catcher Dede Westbrook and actually played the ball like a receiver, diving for the incompletion (the Jaguars punted two plays later). On the second, a fourth-down play with 1:53 remaining, Bortles sought out Westbrook again, but Gilmore pulled a semi-suspended Matrix-level leap to swat the pass away. Jacksonville would never regain possession. Gilmore ended up with five tackles on the day, more than I thought based on how Bortles seemed to avoid him for much of the game.
With all of Philadelphia’s receivers, looking forward to watching how Gilmore and his battery mates match up.
Draw The Line: Checkmate, honey. According to the NFL Network, Brady got pressured on seven of 20 drop backs in the first half, but only two of 22 in the second. That’s a testament to a New England defense that got Jacksonville’s offense off the field via a stronger second-half scheme, and a tired Jaguars pass rush. Kudos to the offensive line for keeping their quarterback clean. Another look at Brady’s reel shows the extra second or two he had during the comeback, allowing him to slide or step up in the pocket and wait for his receivers to break free.
Keeping The Dion The Field: Before his final carry of the game, Dion Lewis had eight rushes for 16 yards. He also had a fumble after a 20-yard double-pass from Amendola, and a mere two-yard average (six for 12) on his other receptions. But the last play you make usually stands out as the one people remember.
Holding on to their four-point lead, New England chose to run the ball on third and nine with 1:38 remaining. Jacksonville still had one timeout left, so the Patriots were betting that, should they fall short on the rush, Bortles wouldn’t be able to bring the team down the field with no timeouts. They didn’t have to worry, as Lewis careened through the left side of the defense and catapulted forward for 18 yards, a first down, and the win.
I tell you, man. One play can change everything. Call it the Dave Roberts rule. (And if you go to that link, prepare yourself for announcer Joe Buck saying, “Will the Red Sox steal a base?” as if Roberts’ lead isn’t so big he’s standing on Lansdowne Street.)
You Look Like Dwayne: A Boston band reference for a Boston-area band of unsung players. Falsetto-high heaps of praise on tight end Dwayne Allen, left tackle Nate Solder, and fullback James Develin for their blocks on Lewis’ game-clincher. As Coach Bill Belichick pointed out in his weekly interview on WEEI, all three executed well to take out Jacksonville defenders and open up the yellow brick road for the mighty munchkin. Allen motioned from right to left and, on the snap, doubled up with Solder to push defensive lineman Malik Jackson three yards backwards. Allen then came off that double-team to take on linebacker Telvin Smith, riding him into linebacker Paul Poslusznuzyzuny (close enough). Meanwhile, Develin walled off onrushing safety Gipson to keep Lewis’ backfield lane clear. A sweetly choreographed ensemble piece by an offense doing nothing to hide their intention; they simply got it done via superior execution.
Jack’d Up: Perhaps the play that summarized Jacksonville’s ability on the defensive side of the ball came on the aforementioned Lewis fumble. Linebacker Myles Jack – who makes cheetahs turn their heads and say, “What the hell is his hurry?” – forced the fumble by darting through an array of blockers and stripping the ball away. The cheetah metaphor seems appropriate because Lewis seemed to get taken by surprise, easy prey for an athlete like Jack. Considering Lewis’ dynamic ability, that’s saying something.
The fumble gave Jacksonville the ball with a 10-point lead at 13:37 remaining, but the Jaguars put forth the first of four scoreless possessions in the final quarter.
This speaks to:
Un-Fournette-Able: That’s what you are. Part of the defense’s game plan took running back/Clydesdale Leonard Fournette into account, and for the most part, their scheme worked. Fournette (who, in his defense, has dealt with an ankle injury) ended up with 76 yards on 24 carries, meaning the D kept him to a manageable 3.2-yard average. Though, in the first half, the facemask imprint that linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s chest received from Fournette on his brutal touchdown run might have forecasted otherwise.
In the fourth quarter, though, New England’s defense seemed to focus on stopping the big back, as the aforementioned four scoreless possessions suggest. Here are his rushing stats for the final four drives: one carry, two yards; two carries, two yards; one carry, minus-one yard; zero carries on final possession. On drives where the Jags needed both Fournette and the clock to keep running, the big back rushed four times for three yards.
Another telling stat: the Jaguars converted four of six third downs in the first half, but just two of nine in the second.
It’s tough to single out any one player in the defensive front seven, so we’ll call on a few: defensive end Trey Flowers had nine tackles and a tipped pass on third down, holding the Jaguars to a field goal on their opening third-quarter drive. Van Noy also had nine and a late sack, while linebacker Elandon Roberts had six stops, and D-linemen Lawrence Guy and Ricky Jean Francois had six and five tackles, respectively. After a slow start with what seemed like missed assignments and some definite missed tackles, the defense got on track.
Message In A Bortles: The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn alluded to the show “The Good Place” in his game column, opening the door for me to add that it’s not just Jacksonville’s defenders who should shirk the loser label. Bortlers had a stunning first half, completing 13 of 15 passes for an unintentional-guttural-noise-inducing 87 percent rate, 155 yards, and a touchdown. The QB took what New England gave him, and they started out in a providing mood, allowing two 20-plus-yard passes to running back Corey Grant on Jacksonville’s first touchdown drive, 35 yards on two passes to Allen Hurns, plus a 12-harder to T. J. Yeldon on their second scoring possession.
Bortles looked great. He completed passes to 10 different targets on the day. So why did his own coach put the kibosh on passing with 55 seconds left in the half? Maybe the second half tells the story. Bortles ended up completing 23 of 36 passes for the game for 293 yards and two touchdowns. That means that his second-half effort resulted in a 10 of 21 (48 percent) completion rate for 138 yards. How much did the quarterback lose momentum, especially in the fourth quarter? How much was due to a more on-point defense? Hard to tell, but no matter where you put the stock in his performance, Bortles earned respect on Sunday. After years of futility, the Jaguars no longer fit as a punchline. Just don’t tell the writers of my favorite sitcom.
More Like The Tortoise And The Hare, Maybe? Lots and lots of lead-up to this game about David vs. Goliath, including an entertaining-if-hyperbolic tease featuring John Malkovich. The problem being, the NFL never features David vs. Goliath. No situation exists where an NFL Alabama plays an NFL Amherst. Last I checked, all 32 teams employ professional football players culled from the same draft and waiver wire. All teams have the same opportunity to pick players, with losing franchises getting chances to select new players before winning teams.
I just think “David and Goliath” makes for a lazy comparison, as would an underdog story like, say, the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, because 300 fighters taking on over 100,000 Persians fails to compare to an 11-on-11 football game. What about Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson? Team USA vs. Russia? Those make more sense.
So, yes, in hindsight, Tortoise and the Hare: The Jaguars got out to a big lead and seemed content to stay put as the Patriots continued to make strides toward the finish line.
And now that I’ve spent thoroughly too much time on that topic…
Cheering Beyond Standards: A good overall job by Jim Nantz and Tony Romo in the broadcast booth, though I could have done without Nantz hopping on the ol’ David-and-Goliath train pre-game. As much as I understand the allure of an upset, both seemed to get a bit too giddy at the Jaguars’ early success. When Lambo’s 54-yard field goal gave the visitors a 17-10 lead, Romo squealed, “It’s perfect!” with the joy of a cooking show host displaying a fresh torte. Hey, the kick looked pristine and deserved credit, but Romo seemed much more excited about Jacksonville’s lead than the field goal itself.
Listen, I’m not here to eliminate bias in the booth. When it comes to local broadcasts, bias can provide in-the-know entertainment, whether it’s Scott Zolak becoming a blithering banshee or Tommy Heinsohn affirming his status as a regional treasure. On the national stage, though, it seems best to have excitement for the plays, but maybe not the score, if that makes sense.
For those saying, “But Nantz loves Tom Brady!” I get it. Not necessarily a fan of obsequious comments, either. (Although, I mean: three AFC Championships in four years is pretty good, right?) Again, I’d ask that announcers root for plays and the players who make them, whatever uniform he might be wearing.
Only a couple of nits to pick, including that, at 13:21 of the second quarter, Romo lauded the defense of Colvin on Hogan, though the replay seemed to show defensive pass interference. Also, after Amendola’s 20-yard punt return late in the game, Nantz noted his use of a hand signal that the Jaguars may have misinterpreted as a fair catch, saying, “He may have tried to duke them a little bit.” Seems that Nantz got caught between “deke” and “juke.” At least I hope that’s what happened.
Seems ironic, but after my mini-rant last week against misuse of the term “literally,” Bill Cowher said this post-game: “Tom Brady literally puts the team on his shoulders.” I mean… ouch? Looks like Brady will need some extra stretching sessions for his aching back.
While I’m here, a quick shot at the abuse of the word “impossible” for events that just happened. As with much language misuse, sports announcing has become a main culprit, with screams of an “impossible catch,” or “impossible comeback,” seeming to occur more and more often. It’s tough, because it’s a strong, concise word, while, “And Amendola makes a catch that has a low probability of success in most cases!” might not bring the same zip. Eh, I think Joe Buck and Troy Aikman did a memorable job with the Edelman catch. Maybe just go with what you’re thinking? “Incredible” works.
I typically have a few replays that CBS missed, but couldn’t seem to find any this week. In part, I’m giving them a break because New England’s hurry-up offense prevented the network from taking another look between downs. One replay we saw that would have worked better from the end zone was Lewis’ final carry, because the blocking scheme and execution deserved more attention. By then, though, with the game in hand, CBS had graduated to sideline reaction shots.
Now for some good stuff:
• Consistently solid work with statistics throughout the game, including at 7:28 of the second quarter, when Jacksonville had 12 first downs to New England’s three.
• Another notable stat shared: In 14 of 18 games this season, the Patriots have scored in the last two minutes of the first half.
• I have stated my disapproval of having the camera show despairing players after an opponent scores and/or wins. It’s a little too much schadenfreude for me; however, the post-game glimpse of Fournette crying while being comforted by Jean-Francois (a fellow LSU alum) showed compassion and sportsmanship. That proved the best way to demonstrate feelings on both sides of the field.
And… that’s it. That’s all I’ve got for CBS. A great first season in the booth for Romo that seemed to rejuvenate Nantz. Maybe during next year’s playoffs they can both calm down a little.
Heady Lamar: I talked about this last year and still find it funny how Belichick’s disdain for the new Lamar Hunt AFC Championship Trophy continues. The previous trophy resembled an old turntable in the part of your grandparents’ living room where you weren’t allowed. Now it looks like a meticulously done high school shop project. Like, Brendan got an A-plus for the time he spent on it after school last spring, but once he brought it home he pretty much forgot about it until he came back for Thanksgiving break freshman year and found it next to his parka.
You know. Hypothetically.
Were there commercials? Why, you bet there were!
What’s A Pain In My Butt? I’ve got to chime in on my distaste for the iPad Pro ad with the final line, “What’s a computer?” You listen here, missy. We will be calling these things computers long after we’ve thrown terms like ProTable or iWhatever into the digital wind. You know god damn well what a computer is.
Snack Wells: A pleasant Wells Fargo ad, “Bake Sale” shows a dad trying to avoid succumbing to buying cookies with the ol’ “I don’t have my wallet” excuse. No need, dear friend! Something called Zelle to the rescue. I like this ad because it’s a softer take on the tried and true “Daddy dummy” plot, with this father actually learning something without looking like a complete idiot.
I mean, I sure as shootin’ didn’t know about Zelle, but now? Brownies for everyone!
Tom Vs. Timing: As much as I’m anticipating watching the “Tom vs. Time” documentary, showing a commercial for it right after New England punted in the third quarter did not seem like a good look. Hard to predict what the score will be when the ad gets slotted (Impossible, even? No?); just an unfortunate circumstance that seemed to work itself out by the end of the game.
Not Intuit, At All: So many issues with the Intuit TurboTax ad with the swordfish impalement, even though it summarized the way Patriots fans may have felt at the time it aired (a double-digit deficit). A little too disturbing for me, as 1) we’re watching a standing dead man while 2) listening to a fish whimpering in distress, which fish do not do.
It’s a swordfish, not a dolphin, people. Get it straight.
Washington Cross: My favorite commercial of the day came courtesy of GEICO, with Washington crossing the Delaware Turnpike. Just watching him turn toward honking commuters and start yelling, “We’ve all got places to go!” makes me laugh. I can’t figure how big GEICO’s advertising budget has become (they always seem to have two or three campaigns rotating at once), but they remain some of the most memorable spots on TV.
Two movie trailers of note…
The Croft Supershow: The new Lara Croft movie looks legit. I shied away from the original because it seemed like they worked too hard to make Angelina Jolie resemble the video game, whereas I think now they’re trying to make Lara (Alicia Vikander) seem like a real person, á la how they deal with characters in the new Jumanji. Looks like what I call a good “preview movie,” where the preview shows you what you get: if you enjoy it, you’ll probably like the feature.
Most action films, with their straightforward plots and visuals, qualify as good preview movies. “The Rock helicoptering around San Francisco? I’m on board, San Andreas.”
Worst preview movie ever? My Girl. “Oh, here I am, watching a joyous romp through a simpler time with a cute girl and the kid from Home Alone, as I assumed from the preview, and he shouldn’t be walking in that area and what is happening wait OH MY GOD NO.”
By the way, if you’ve never heard of “The Krofft Supershow,” please, please, link to the subhead above. It was a Saturday morning program from 40 years ago that I remember watching as a child, yet seeing the intro for the first time in decades disturbed me. So many questions. Where was this? Were they a cult? Why are they ambling alongside the highway?
Just remember: in the 1970s, that show was completely normal.
I Am An Island: Did I mention the Rock? Dwayne Johnson stars in Rampage, which looks like a 21st-Century mash-up of Mighty Joe Young and the old Godzilla vs. Insert Monster Here movies. I loved spending Saturday afternoons with my brother checking out “Creature Double Feature” on channel 56. Vampires and werewolves scared me, but the giant monsters portrayed by men in rubber suits always entertained. In this offering, apparently, an albino gorilla has come into contact with some kind of genetic something-or-other yammer yammer blah blah who cares they’re gigantic beasts trashing a city!
I did not know this before I wrote the above paragraph: Rampage is brought to you by the director of San Andreas. Good preview movie!
Opposing Team Mascot Etymology: The word “eagle” arose from the Latin aquila.
Opposing Team Site Name Etymology: The word “Philadelphia” means, literally, “Brotherly love,” from philos (loving) and adelphos (brother). I have no doubt New England fans and Philadelphia fans will have nothing but love for each other in the coming weeks. Isn’t that right, you hoagie-horking, wooder-slurping humps?
Not going to need it this season, but “Minnesota” comes from the Dakota word mnisota, which means “cloudy water,” from mni for river and sota for slightly cloudy. I love words. Friends and social events, not as much.
Congratulations to last year’s Patriots Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount, who found the right spot to land last off-season.
Next week, please look for our first “That Guy” Patriots draft preview of the year, as we focus on the Senior Bowl (this Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m. ET). Here’s a look at last year’s column. Next Thursday, we’ll re-post 2017’s “With A Little Bit Of Luck” column reviewing the good fortune every Super Bowl winner has needed since 2000.
Chris Warner just got a text from his wife asking if he wanted to get pizza one minute after he thought about getting pizza. Chris Warner is a very lucky man.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @cwarn89
2 thoughts on “Patriots Thursday Observations, AFC Championship Review”
“Only one player from that game remains in the league.” Adam Vinatieri played in that game and played last year and hasn’t retired.
Thanks, Chris. Will edit.
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