Jacksonville offense: 7th overall (17th passing, 2nd rushing); Scoring- 6th- 25.7 ppg. New England defense: 4th overall (6th passing, 10th rushing); Scoring- 4th- 17.1 ppg.
Can the Jaguars Compete?
The Patriots have never lost a playoff game following a bye week. The Pats have never lost a home playoff game under Bill Belichick. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a 12-2 career playoff record which includes three Super Bowl rings. The Pats have a 6-1 all-time record against the Jags, including Jacksonville's last playoff defeat in 2005. This year's New England team has scored more points than any other team in NFL history (589), and they've allowed the fourth-fewest points in the NFL, despite giving their opponents more possessions than nearly any other team. And one other thing, the Patriots are the first team in NFL history to win all 16 regular season games.
After looking at those stats, it's easy to understand why New England is currently a 13 point favorite against the Jaguars. So the pressure should be off the Jags, right? Jaguars quarterback David Garrard isn't so sure–
"I don't know if I buy into that, but I have heard that we are playing with house money. I have been trying to figure out what that means. We are just going to go up there and have fun like we have always been doing all year long. It's football, it's the NFL and that's what the name of the game is having fun. If we execute and do our job like we have been taught all year long then we can play with anybody."
The Jaguars feel that they can compete, as well they should. This was a team that won 11 of it's final 14 games before resting their starters in the season finale in Houston. The Jaguars know what kind of team they're facing--an undefeated team-- but they also know that New England isn't unbeatable.
"We know that everyone has vulnerabilities," said quarterback David Garrard. "We know that there are some weak spots, we know that there are some things that we can try to take advantage of, but they went 16-0, so they weren't too vulnerable. They did a lot of great things this season. Fifty touchdown passes, 23 touchdown receptions, you can't just push those to the side. They are all records. We just have to play Jaguar football. We can't get into the hype on how great and powerful they are; we just have to play our game. We believe if we play our game and execute like we know we can, we can possibly beat anybody. It's going to take all of that and more. We just have to be ready for that and more."
Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis understands how good the Patriots are, but refuses to show them too much respect– "They are a very good ball team. They are proven to be the best football team during the regular season with their undefeated record. Anytime you are going against a very good team it's going to be a challenge and we look forward to that challenge. We respect them a lot but you give nobody too much respect, because if you give anybody that much respect then you are laying down to them and we are laying down to no one."
So it's blatantly obvious that the Jaguars won't take the Patriots lightly, nor will they have a defeatist attitude about playing them despite their current record and the past results between the two teams. New England is always well prepared for any opponent, especially in the playoffs. This game will come down to the match-ups. The Patriots score more points than the Jaguars, and they also give up less. Tom Brady throws the football better than anyone in the league, and the Jaguars have some issues defending the pass. Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis relishes the tall task that lies ahead of him–
"That's what every corner plays this game for. I have said it a million times that if you are a cornerback and you don't like teams to throw the ball then you are in the wrong position. It's a huge challenge and we are up for the challenge."
So do the Jaguars have to play a perfect game to beat New England? David Garrard doesn't think so–
"Just score points. When we get into the red zone just score points. Not turn it over and protect the ball and if we have to punt, then punt. We are not going to say we are going to score every time we get the ball, but we do need to put points up. We know that they can score, but we are not going to press ourselves with trying to make a big play every time we have the ball. We have to work the process and sometimes it takes 15 plays and hopefully we can get a few of those drives. If not we just have to do what we can do to win the ballgame. That's what it boils down to - whether we need to play offense, defense or special teams - anything we need to do to make plays. That is the biggest thing."
There has been a lot of talk about perfection this week, most of it revolving around the Patriots and their regular season record. The Jaguars don't need to play a perfect game to win, there is no such thing. The Patriots are a great team, and the Jaguars will have to play a great game to pull off the upset. They must run the ball effectively and take time off the clock. They will have to force some turnovers and not commit any of their own. They can't commit stupid penalties and their playmakers must make plays all over the field, similar to what they did a week ago in Pittsburgh. For the Jaguars to make history and win the game they don't have to be perfect, but they must be great.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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