After a week of positional breakdowns, game previews, match up analysis, injury reports, and vast speculation, we turned to the ultimate source of definitive prognostication to determine exactly how Sunday’s AFC Championship game will play out — a good ole fashioned Madden simulation.
Set to All Madden with 15-minute quarters and fully updated rosters and depth charts, we let the algorithms from the good folks at EA Sports do their thing — and the outcome was completely wild.
From opening coin toss, the Jaguars came in with a swagger and confidence. They correctly guessed the coin flip, and boldly chose to receive the opening kickoff — a decision that would pay off right away.
Fueled by an inexplicable pass interference penalty on third-and-three by veteran linebacker David Harris, the Jaguars marched down the field and scored on a beautifully sold play-action pass to tight end Mercedes Lewis from the Patriots’ four yard line. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette paced the drive with 36 scrimmage yards on eight touches. Harris was subsequently benched for the remainder of the game, but would be seen throughout the contest providing spirited support to his teammates.
Tom Brady and the offense would respond immediately.
Not to be out done by his running back counterpart, Dion Lewis also touched the football eight times on his team’s opening drive, racking up 30 yards on the ground and 18 through the air, including four of the team’s five first downs on the drive. Rob Gronkowski found an early groove against safety Barry Church, catching two passes for 20 yards, with the second grab bringing the Patriots offense to within inches of Jacksonville’s goal line. A patented Tom Brady sneak would take care of the rest, and the two teams were knotted up at 7-7 with just under two minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
The Patriots’ defense forced a three-and-out after a strong tackle by Malcolm Butler on third-and-six pass to Marquise Lee that would end up a yard short. Following the punt, the Patriots’ offense would begin at their own 18 yard line.
Dion Lewis continued his effective work on the ground, but as the Patriots approached midfield, a Marcell Dareus sack would a force a third and 17. Instead of feeding a draw or screen to James White, Brady opted instead to test the one-on-one match up he had on the outside with Jalen Ramsey on Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots’ All-Pro would win the initial battle against the Jaguars’ All-Pro, catching an 18-yard fade on the sideline for a first down. Gronkowski would add another 19-yard reception, but the drive would stall in the red zone, and the Patriots would settle for a 30-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to take a three-point lead.
Jacksonville came out on the next drive committed to sticking with the ground game, running Fournette on six consecutive plays with success. A Blake Bortles misfire on third down from the Patriots 43 forced an interesting decision by Doug Marrone. Instead of punting, he sent out Josh Lambo to attempt a 59-yard down-wind field goal. The hooking kick had the distance, but missed by just inches to the left, giving Brady and company excellent field position.
Set up by completions to Danny Amendola, Rex Burkhead, and Chris Hogan, Dion Lewis would punch in a one-yard touchdown on third down with 1:12 left in the half. An unsuccessful extra point try that would’ve given New England a 10-point lead left the score at 16-7.
Jacksonville wouldn’t be able mount a drive to end the half, as Lawrence Guy recorded a coverage sack on 3rd down. Amendola would fair catch the ensuing punt at his own 40, but with one timeout and 38 seconds left on clock, Brady wasn’t able to get his offense into range for a long field goal. The Patriots would take their nine-point lead into the half.
Team stats at the half
Score: JAX: 7 — NE: 16
Total Offense: JAX: 101 — NE: 225
Passing Yards: JAX: 34 — NE: 146
Rushing yards: JAX: 67 — NE: 79
First Downs: JAX: 5 — NE: 13
Turnovers: JAX: 0 — NE: 0
Player stats at the half
Bortles: 4/8 for 34 yards, 1 TD - 0 INT, 101.0 rating, 2 carries for 8 yards
Fournette: 16 carries for 59 yards (3.6 ypc), 1 catch for 13 yards
Lee: 2 catches for 17 yards — M. Lewis: 1 catch for 4 yards, 1 TD
Brady: 12/14 for 146 yards, 0 TD - 0 INT, 110.1 rating, 5 carries for 17 yards, 1 TD
Lewis: 17 carries for 62 yards (3.6 ypc), 1 TD, 1 catch for 18 yards
Gronkowski: 4 for 57 yards — Burkhead: 2 for 28 yards — Hogan: 2 for 31 yards — Cooks: 2 for 5 yards
The Patriots began the second half with a steady dose of Rex Burkhead, who logged six carries for 24 yards and provided a different look between the tackles. A 24-yard wheel route completion to James White once again brought the Patriots offense into the red zone, but Jacksonville’s secondary clamped down and forced another Stephen Gostkowski field goal, which he converted from 34 yards to increase New England’s lead to 19-7.
The Jaguars offense took the field on the next possession with a burst of intensity following an impassioned sideline speech from Blake Bortles. The Jacksonville line created a consistent push as they continued to pound Leonard Fournette for 41 more yards. Bortles had critical completions to each of his three starting receivers on third downs to keep momentum as they entered the red zone. The majestic nine-minute drive was capped off by a two-yard touchdown plunge by Fournette. The Josh Lambo extra point was successful, making it a five-point affair.
The Jaguars’ drive had taken the energy out of Gillette Stadium, but not out of quarterback Tom Brady. Like so many times in his career, with the team needing to answer an opponent’s surge with a crucial second-half scoring drive of their own, the Patriots’ leader took control.
The possession started at the Patriots’ 25 yard line with Brady firing a 13-yard strike to Brandin Cooks on the boundary for the final play of the third quarter. The initial play of the fourth quarter would also be a bullet pass to Cooks for 9 yards — this time on a slant over the middle with tight man coverage being applied by A.J. Bouye. Rex Burkhead, after being stuffed on second-and-inches, converted another huge third down with a four-yard scamper after breaking a Myles Jack tackle in the backfield.
Dion Lewis would then rotate back in and convert the team’s next third-and-two in almost exactly the same fashion as the Patriots crossed midfield. The following four plays saw Brady connecting with Lewis and Rob Gronkowski twice each to march New England inside Jacksonville’s five yard line. On first and goal from the four, Danny Amendola sprung free across the middle from the slot and survived an illegal but un-flagged blow to the head from linebacker Telvin Smith as Brady found him with a low bullet pass for the score. The extra point gave the Patriots another 12-point lead with 8:42 remaining.
The two teams would trade possessions over the next three minutes of play — each unable to capitalize on early first downs, and being forced to punt. The Jaguars would take over on offense from their own 41 yard line with just over four and a half minutes remaining. With a 12-point lead, the Gillette Stadium crowd was raucous as their team was seemingly on the cusp of a third Super Bowl appearance in four years.
Their enthusiasm would be short lived.
Following a six-yard completion to tight end Mercedes Lewis, Blake Bortles rolled out to his left off of play- action on the ensuing second-and-four snap and hit a wide open Allen Hurns streaking down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown — the greatest throw of his career. Once again, following the extra point, the New England lead had been trimmed to five.
Dion Lewis’ five-yard gain on first down of the next possession was followed by a Tom Brady throwaway as Yannick Ngakoue applied pressure from the edge, setting up a controversial third down play.
James White, on a shotgun hand off, had an ample hole provided to him by right tackle Cameron Fleming and guard Shaq Mason, but an incredible effort by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Calais Campbell kept him two yards short of the line to gain — but also drew a flag. An occurrence that would likely set Twitter ablaze, Campbell was inexplicably called for a 15-yard face mask penalty, even though replay showed White’s wasn’t contacted about the shoulder pads at any point during the play. The call would allow the Patriots to burn an additional 90 seconds or so off of the clock.
In the face of adversity, the Jaguars defense stood their ground and forced a two-yard sliding rush by Brady on third and long following the two minute warning. With the clock running, and with what can only be categorized as a complete gaffe, Doug Marrone chose to save his timeouts, and as precious seconds ticked away, Ryan Allen’s punt took a hard Jacksonville bounce into the end zone for a touchback.
With a chance to take the Jacksonville Jaguars organization to the Super Bowl, Blake Bortles took the field down by five, with all three timeouts, and 1:16 left on the clock.
It was not to be.
Bortles scrambled for four yards on first down, and completed a 10-yard pass to Allen Hurns on second down. On the next play, with 35 seconds left, Devin McCourty cut underneath a Marquise Lee deep-out route, and easily snagged the severely under-thrown pass to send the Patriots to Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis.
A Tom Brady kneel made it official.
Final team stats
Score: JAX: 21 — NE: 26
Total Offense: JAX: 261 — NE: 399
Passing Yards: JAX: 141 — NE: 233
Rushing yards: JAX: 120 — NE: 166
First Downs: JAX: 13 — NE: 25
Turnovers: JAX: 1 — NE: 0
Bortles: 12/18 for 141 yards, 2 TD - 1 INT, 104.1 rating, 4 carries for 16 yards
Fournette: 27 carries for 104 yards (3.8ypc), 1 catch for 13 yards
Lee: 3 for 25 yards — M. Lewis: 2 for 10 yards, 1 TD — Westbrook: 2 for 7 yards — Hurns: 4 for 86 yards, 1 TD
Brady: 20/33 for 233 yards, 1 TD - 0 INT, 92.1 rating, 8 carries for 23 yards, 1 TD
Lewis: 27 carries for 113 yards (4.1ypc), 1 TD, 2 catches for 33 yards
Burkhead: 9 carries for 30 yards (3.3ypc), 2 catches for 28 yards
Gronkowski: 7 for 78 yards — Hogan: 2 for 31 yards — Cooks: 4 for 28 yards — Amendola: 2 for 11 yards, 1 TD — White: 1 for 24 yards