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Patriots vs. Jaguars: Fan Notes from the AFC Championship

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Janguars.

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I can’t keep doing this to myself.

Just one time, I’d like for the New England Patriots to play an entire postseason without having to overcome a double-digit deficit. Just once, I’d like to spend the month of January not vacillating back and forth between overheating as I sweat through my recliner and freezing as the icy wind blowing through the window I had to open in order to keep my apartment from exploding gets me sick. Why can’t they just mow people over 75-0 every week so I can relax for a change?

Because that’s not how the Patriots do business, that’s why. They are a team that exhibits patience, that knows a football game is 60 minutes long and it’s all about being in the right position as the clock winds down. As we’ve seen time and time again, when a Patriots opponent doesn’t play until the final whistle, New England will find a way to win, and that’s exactly what happened yesterday as the Pats took everything the Jaguars had and then some, only to mount a late comeback led by Tommy B and Danny Amendola to send them to yet another Super Bowl. The Jags played almost perfect football for three quarters of the AFC Championship game...but against the greatest quarterback (and the refs! BLAME THE REFS!) of all time, three quarters ain’t gonna cut it.

  • If you didn’t see the John Malkovich teaser before the game started, drop everything you’re doing and watch it now. One of the best football promos I have ever seen.
  • Malkovich has to be a pretty weird dude. Definitely the kind of guy who talks to his plants.
  • Who the hell is Phillip Phillips? Is that his real name? Did his parents actually name him Phillip Phillips?
  • Tommy B’s hand is yet another example of the media taking a non-story and blowing it up into a full-fledged emergency. Part of me wonders if, in those situations, the Patriots would be better off just disclosing the state of the injury in order to avoid all the nonsense, but if they did that the storyline would just be “Patriots uncharacteristically transparent about Tom Brady’s injury; is it just more deception?”, so what’s the point. The bottom line is If Torry Holt can catch passes with this finger, Tommy B can throw the ball with his thumb.
  • As evidenced on the first drive of the day, where Brady dropped an absolute dime to Amendola on 4th and 2 to set up a field goal. I don’t want to start gushing about Amendola this early on in the Fan Notes, though, so I’ll just leave it at that.
  • If I had to guess, I’d say that the one area of the field where Tommy B takes the most sacks is on 3rd down from inside the 20 yard line. It makes sense; clear passing down, limited field for the receivers to run, and more urgency from the defense to get a stop.
  • Patrica moved Lawrence Guy to the edge in order to go bigger along the defensive line, using Kyle Van Noy to add speed across the edge, with Trey Flowers and Eric Lee on the other side. The Bear front is designed to jam up the middle, make it harder for backs to break to the outside, and keep passing plays in front of the secondary. The weakness of the Bear front is if the running game is effective and the playaction starts working, the middle of the field is wide open. And that’s exactly how Jacksonville played yesterday.
  • “The Patriots haven’t given up an opening possession TD drive in 16 straight home games.” I was convinced the very next play was going to be a 60 yard touchdown pass as soon as that stat flashed across the bottom of the screen.
  • Everyone totally predicted that Brandin Cooks would be the one getting the bulk of the looks early on, right?
  • On the other hand, Jacksonville’s gameplan was exactly what we all expected: run-heavy, lots of playaction, and high percentage throws. That JAX was able to execute it so well early on speaks volumes about their coaching and preparation.
  • Tony Romo put it perfectly in the second quarter: run, run, playaction, run, screen, playaction, run, run. That was all Jacksonville did. And there wasn’t a damn thing the Patriots could do about it. Romo got so excited for Jacksonville’s first touchdown of the day I almost thought I fell asleep and only woke up as the Jags scored the game winner in OT.
  • Tony Romo the player in the regular season: lights out, perennial MVP candidate. Tony Romo the player in the playoffs: botched the snap on the extra point, throws a game sealing INT.
  • Tony Romo the announcer in the regular season: “look for the option read here, the tight end should be breaking across the seam and that’s gonna open up space for a fade route or maybe a shallow hook. See? THERE IT IS!” Tony Romo the announcer in the postseason: “Wow! WooooW Ehhhhhhh ooooooh I don’t know...aaaaeeeeeeeuuuuu I!” What is it about this guy and January?
  • That said, Romo still gets an A+ from me for the job he did in the booth this season - if for no other reason that he got Phil Simms out of there.
  • Thank Tebow for that Cooks comeback route. I can’t think of a single other play that worked for New England.
  • Other than Cooks, Patriots receivers had a near impossible time gaining any kind of separation, which led to some early sacks on Brady. And then it happened, and we all saw it: Brady started hearing footsteps. He started ducking and preparing for a sack when there wasn’t one forthcoming. He was scrambling around looking for any outlet to throw to, and there wasn’t one there. The results speak for themselves.
  • When the Jags went up 14-3 before the Patriots had even converted their first third down of the day, I became even more thankful that Tennessee beat Kansas City. If the Chiefs had played the Patriots last week, it would have been a very similar situation.
  • I’m not sure how to feel about the Barry Church penalty that took Gronk out. It was a clear helmet-to-helmet hit, and player safety is at least what the NFL pretends to care about, so I get it...but I don’t know. That kind of hit is exactly why I fell in love with football as a kid, and what else what Church supposed to do?
  • I’d also like to know whether or not Gronk actually had a concussion, or if he was totally fine and failed concussion protocol anyway. I’m actually a little worried he’ll now be in concussion protocol for the rest of his life before someone figures out that’s his natural resting state.
  • The screen game wasn’t working at all. It just wasn’t. The Patriots kept trying it relentlessly, but couldn’t get anywhere. When a team is able to take away both the run, the screen, and the middle of the field and forces New England to keep taking shots down the field, the Patriots become incredibly one dimensional and easy to defend - which is why we saw them more or less empty out their playbook yesterday in order to gain yards.
  • But when the Patriots needed a drive late, they went for a James White screen and it worked perfectly. Patience and execution always pay off.
  • You’d figure that the Patriots would figure out how to defend the playaction shallow cross by the third quarter...but there we were.
  • You can always tell it’s the NFL playoffs when I’m officially sick of every single commercial. There’s just nothing out there any more I find amusing, even the Dilly Dilly thing.
  • There were two big DPI calls on Cooks, one obvious, and one not as obvious. But as someone who couldn’t even begin to tell you what constitutes DPI in the NFL these days, I don’t quite get the outrage. It’s just a stupid penalty, and all the more reason to stop making it a spot foul.
  • As the third quarter wound down, it became obvious to me that the Patriots had played a game which focused on forcing Blake Bortles into making a mistake - and he simply wasn’t going to make a mistake. It wasn’t going to happen. And since the Jags were running so well and New England couldn’t figure out how to defend any of the mid-range crossing routes (nor could they prevent the Jags from not gaining any yards after the catch), there just wasn’t anything to be done but wait for Jacksonville to beat themselves - and that’s exactly what happened.
  • I don’t know exactly when the momentum shifted in this game...oh wait, yes I do. So does everyone who watched. 3rd and 18, Brady to who else but Danny Amendola to move the chains and keep what would be a scoring drive alive. For the millionth time: nobody can ever say anything about Danny Amendola not living up to his contract ever again. He can go an entire season without making a single play as far as I’m concerned. He has established himself as one of the most clutch playoff athletes in Boston sports history, and I feel like with yesterday’s game he at least got himself into the building where the Patriots Hall of Fame talks take place. He still doesn’t know what floor to go to, but hey - he made it past the bouncer.
  • The player that made that conversion happen was, somehow, James White. Jacksonville only rushed four, dropped seven, and played over zone. White ran out into the middle flat, and for some reason, two linebackers went with him as Brady looked them off. That allowed for a clear throwing lane as Amendola came over the middle to find the soft spot for 21.
  • And of course it was Amendola who scored the final two TDs, because when you lose your #1 receiver in the preseason and then your biggest red zone threat to a concussion, of course the guy you go to is your 3rd option.
  • And in case you were worried that Amendola wasn’t rewarded enough for his performance yesterday - I think he’ll be fine.
  • I can’t believe that they figured out how to make a movie out of the video game “Rampage.” All that game is is a bunch of monsters trying to knock down buildings. That’s it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though; the real shocker would be if “Rampage” didn’t turn into a four movie series.
  • There’s a whole lot to love about yesterday’s game, but what makes it just that much sweeter is that James Harrison made the key strip sack to set up a 3rd and 19 and Stephon Gilmore made one of the most athletic defensive plays you’ll ever see to seal the win. Thanks, Steelers! Thanks, Bills!
  • Tommy B has now been to a Super Bowl in 50% of his seasons as a starter. With this latest, he will have played the biggest game on the sports calendar on every single American border. That doesn’t even make any sense.
  • Dion Lewis’s longest run of the day was 18 yards. It came on a 3rd and 9 where a first down would allow for victory formation. When a play was needed, a play was made.
  • You really have to feel for the city of Minneapolis. Not only did their beloved Vikings get blown out in the NFC Championship, thus ruining the chance for the Vikes to play at home in the Super Bowl, but now they have to sit there, helpless, as their city gets infiltrated by Bostonians and Philadelphians. If there are two more obnoxious fanbases, I have yet to meet them - and now they’re all in the same place at once.
  • In 2001, the Patriots faced off against the NFC West Champs, the St. Louis Rams. In 2003, they were up against the Panthers, who won the NFC South that year. In 2004, they defended their title against the Eagles as they prepared to say goodbye to both of their coordinators.
  • In 2014, the Patriots played the Seahawks, NFC West Champs. In 2016, they played the winners of the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons. In 2017, they’ll be defending their title against the Eagles as they prepare to say goodbye to both of their coordinators. There’s not enough tinfoil in the world to build the kind of hat I’m going to want to wear for the next few weeks.
  • We’re on to Minnesota. I have absolutely no idea how the game is going to go in a few weeks, but I’m very, very confident in making the following predictions:
  • The Patriots won’t score a single point in the first quarter. The game will be decided by less than a touchdown. Tom Brady will be in position to win the game late. The game will be defined by one, maybe two plays. And I’m not going to have a single second of fun for the entire duration.

Buckle up, everyone. Time to get to work.