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Postgame, Week 19: New England Patriots31, Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Perfect Game Remains Elusive
Defense Contains Jaguars Running Game; Offense Stellar

Like division by zero, the perfect game is undefined.

With pursuit of the perfect regular season wrapped up, New England turned its gaze to the playoffs. And regardless of any long-term goal, in true Patriots fashion, they turned their laser focus to the next game on the schedule and planned to plat the ever-elusive perfect game.

They came really close.

At the very least, the offense did. Tom Brady was 26 of 28, no interceptions. A rare drop by Wes Welker (can you believe he started turning upfield before securing the pass?) and one by Ben Watson who had a defender draped on him marred that effort. Laurence Maroney averaged 5.5 yards per carry in a 122-yard effort, no fumbles. No fumbles by anyone, in fact.

P1hotobucket - Video and Image Hosting 31 - - - P1hotobucket - Video and Image Hosting 20

But there were deficiencies. The offense had 10 third downs to convert. That's not exactly perfect, is it? Even if they had converted them? They converted just six. They actually had a fourth down. You shouldn't have one of those in a "perfect" game, should you? And they were just 4 of 6 in the red zone. They missed a field goal, that ultimately had not impact, but still.

That may be nitpicking, but that's what perfection is. A missed block, a mental slip, a wrong passing route run.

The defense had a tougher time. Missed assignments, missed tackles, lots of stuff the coaches will see on film.

Undoubtedly, there were some coaching mistakes. A play that maybe should have been challenged. A bad play call on offense or on defense. Putting the wrong player in the wrong situation, making a bad substitution. I don't have a list of those things, but I'm sure Belichick does.

Superman for a Day -- Patriots running back Laurence Maroney flies over blocking back Heath Evans into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter to give New England a 14-7 lead.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Reuters

Don't forget to give the opponent credit, too. Jacksonville scored 20 points on the board, and it wasn't by luck or solely by Patriot mistakes.

In the open thread, I noted long drive after long drive. Each team had just four drives apiece in each half. One for each team was a meaningless end-of-half or end-of-game drive. I'm not sure I remember ever seeing such a short drive list.

The Patriots drives ended thusly: Touchdown, Touchdown, Missed field goal, End of half (9 seconds left when possession gained), Touchdown, Touchdown, Field Goal, Punt.

A missed field goal and a meaningless punt. That's it. Pretty close to perfect.

Had the Patriots been able to continue the drive on which Stephen Gostkowski missed his field goal attempt, each team would have one fewer first-half possession.

On Jacksonville's eight possessions, they scored a pair of touchdowns and a pair of field goals, punted once, had their end-of-game possession, and had two turnovers (a fumble and an interception). It was probably the most well-played game of the weekend.

The Jaguars took the early lead, scoring the game's first possession. The touchdown was the first points on a team's opening possession against a Belichick-coached playoff team. Jacksonville mixed in a few Fred Taylor runs, but the Jags came out throwing, and they continued throwing throughout the game.

Jacksonville went 80 yards on 9 plays, including a stunning 4th-down conversion -- a 34-yard pass on 4th-and-1, to punch in a touchdown against New England in Foxboro, and it was clear that another team brought its best game to play the Patriots. Of course, you'd expect nothing less in the playoffs.

Then, like two heavyweight fighters standing toe-to-toe, these teams exchanged heavy blows until one set up the knockout.

Nowhere to Run -- Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel upended Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew. New England stymied the vaunted Jaguar running game, holding Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to 66 yards

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Barry Chin

  • Patriots: 10 plays, 74 yards, touchdown
  • Jaguars: 3 plays, 11 yards, fumble
  • Patriots: 7 plays, 29 yards, touchdown
  • Jaguars: 11 plays, 86 yards, touchdown
  • Patriots: 13 plays, 79 yards, missed field goal
  • Jaguars: 3 plays, 8 yards, punt
  • Patriots: 1 play, -1 yard, end of half
  • Patriots: 11 plays, 82 yards, touchdown
  • Jaguars: 9 plays, 53 yards, field goal
  • Patriots: 6 plays, 61 yards, touchdown
  • Jaguars: 13 plays, 71 yards, field goal
  • Patriots: 6 plays, 63 yards, field goal
  • Jaguars: 9 plays, 29 yards, interception
  • Patriots: 6 plays, 16 yards, punt
  • Jaguars: 1 play, 12 yards, end of game
Forget the end-of-half drives. The Jaguars had two 3-play drives ending in a fumble and a punt. Otherwise, their shortest drive was 9 plays, and they had three of those, plus a pair longer than 10.

The Patriots had three 2nd-half drives of 6 plays, their shortest of the game. New England had three drives of 10 plays or more.

That's really some amazing football.

The Patriots returned Jacksonville's first-drive favor by converting a 4th-down of their own on their way to Brady connecting with Watson for a touchdown. It was the 13th consecutive playoff game in which Brady has thrown a touchdown pass, tying him with Dan Marino and leaving him four games short of Brett Favre (What? No Peyton Manning? Oh, right: 20-3.).

The defense had the first big defensive play of the first half, forcing a Garrard fumble and giving the Patriots a short field. Brady and company still squeezed a wearying 7 plays in that 29 yards. Maroney picked up 9 yards on a 3rd-and-1 and two plays later bounded over the goal-line from a yard out.

Jacksonville came right back to re-knot the game at 14. New England had a chance to go up by 7 at the half. It could have been demoralizing and ended this game sooner. But the knockout blow not only didn't land squarely, with Gostkowski's field goal sailing right, it missed completely.

But the defense made its first stand and forced the game's only 3-and-out.

Neither team had a negative play in the 2nd half except for a 2-yard Maroney loss with a minute left in the game.

The Patriots opened the final 30 minutes with a typical Patriots methodical drive. Lots of small bites until Maroney broke a 22-yard run to the Jacksonville 26. Brady then hit Kevin Faulk for 7 and Jabar Gaffney for 13.

Now You See It -- New England faked the fake. Quarterback Tom Brady then turned and fired to Wes Welker to put the Patriots on top, 21-14 in the third quarter.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Matthew J. Lee

And then some Charlie Weis-ian magic with the "fake direct snap."

Remember all those times Brady would fake like the snap when over his head, but it was really a direct snap to Faulk? Those almost always caught teams off-guard. Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio did his homework, and the Jaguars didn't fall for that. They swarmed Faulk.

But Faulk didn't have the ball. The snap really did go to Brady. The Patriots faked the fake and executed it perfectly. With most of the defense attacking Faulk, Brady had all day, and he found Wes Welker for the 6-yard touchdown.

New England's defense solidified. They bend, didn't break. They allowed some yards, but they allowed just a field goal.

New England responded with another TD. Maroney became the 6th Patriots running back to notch a 100-yard post-season performance -- his career first and the team's first since Corey Dillon's against Indy in 2005. Watson caught the touchdown toss from Brady and tied Stanley Morgan (vs. Denver, 1987) for most touchdown receptions in a Patriots playoff game.

That was pretty much the beginning of the end. The defense bent, but didn't break again. New England tacked on a field goal to make it a two-score game. Rodney Harrison, making up for earlier mistakes, picked off Garrard and entered the Patriots and NFL record books (7th post-season interception for New England, 4th straight NFL playoff game with a pick).

And with this one in the books, the distant goal quite simply in the distance, the New England Patriots go back to work -- in pursuit of the perfect game.

Honor Among Men -- Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spends a few post-game moments with an honorable, non-backstabbing snake of a coach, Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Matthew J. Lee

Forcing the Issue -- Patriots defensive end Ty Warren sacks Jacksonville quarterback David Garrad and forces a fumble that New England turned into a touchdown.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Jim Davis

One More for Maroney -- He earned the extra photo today.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Reuters