Four Downs with DJK: Patriots at Jaguars
This afternoon's Week 2 contest was a rematch of last year's epic AFC Championship game, except this time, the New England Patriots receivers were totally different, and the Jacksonville Jaguars may have gotten even better.
There was no Patriot comeback this time (although there almost was), and the Jags earned every bit of a 31-20 win over the Pats.
Another year together, the "Sacksonville" defense seemed to gel like it never had today. They executed every aspect of the game well (not to sound too much like Bill Belichick), blanketing receivers, getting pressure with their front four, and most importantly, finishing the job.
So let's break it down:
From the very start, the Patriots actually seemed to be moving the ball well. Then the pressure hit, perhaps a miscommunication on the offensive line when Yannick Ngakoue came in untouched and the Pats had to settle for a 54-yard field goal, which Stephen Gostkowski missed. That was just a sign of things to come. Calais Campbell also got a huge hit on Brady on the first drive, and that front four came to play. They started it, and the back end finished it. Jacksonville registered two sacks on the day, but any team can do that (except the Patriots, apparently). The real difference maker was the fact that it seemed like a Jaguar was in the backfield on almost every down, rushing Brady and making him get rid of the ball too early. By the end of the first half, it appeared he was forcing balls early off his back foot, even when no one was around him, because he felt the Sacksonville "ghosts."
Tony Romo called it the greatest game Blake Bortles has ever played, and statistically he is likely wrong, but in terms of big games, big moments, and clutch plays, he is probably right. Bortles hasn't played in many big games in his career. Really, only last year's postseason comes to mind, where the only good game he had was against the Steelers. But one could argue this was more impressive due to the fact that star second-year running back Leonard Fournette did not play due to injury. Bortles finished with over 370 passing yards, 36 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns and only one interception on a tipped pass. Crossing routes were a huge part of the Jacksonville's offensive game plan today, as Bortles was able to sit back in the pocket and let every route develop. Part of that may be due to the fact the Patriots had a few key injuries throughout the game, such as Trey Flowers, Patrick Chung and Deatrich Wise, Jr. Bortles takes a lot of criticism, but he earned this one today, helping his team to a 10-of-14 third down conversion rate, compared to the Patriots' 4-of-12.
Watching today's game, I was reminded of the 2013 season, in which receivers like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson struggled to connect with Brady early on and really for most of the season, but the team still made the AFC Championship Game that year. It's a horrendous feeling, but games like this are necessary for this team to win and be on the same page when it counts. Luckily, Julian Edelman does come back in two more weeks, but he was there the whole season in 2013 and despite being Brady's go-to guy, the receiving group still struggled. Bottom line, if this team wants to get better, it's going to take a much better game from the defense, who should be setting the team up with great field position. Whereas today, Jacksonville had two punts inside the 10-yard line, causing many drives to either fail early or eventually stall. Lastly, practice can only do so much. Only with game after game will the team get better.
That was some of the worst play-calling I have ever seen today. First off, let's set the scene: a rematch of the AFC Championship, after going down 7-0 and having a critical third-and-one, you hand off to a rookie running back in Sony Michel? Don't get me wrong, he seems like he has upside (despite a costly drop early on), but in this setting, to hand the ball off to someone who wasn't even there last year seemed wrong. Oh, and not to mention you have the best quarterback of all time, and he is also amazing at QB sneaks, in which he was actually 1-for-1 on successful conversions today.
Jacksonville's game plan was obvious: double tight end Rob Gronkowski, or the occasional one-on-one with Jalen Ramsey, and make Brady go elsewhere. It seemed the only elsewhere there was, though, was running back James White, a veteran who played big today. The Jaguars knew if they could take away both of those weapons, or at least limit them, Jacksonville's amazing front four would get home to sack Tom Brady--and it worked, in classic Tom Coughlin style. Other than one creative play where gadget wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson took a hand-off, Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to be left lost with how to respond, as if any football fan didn't know that's what the Jaguars would do.