New England's offense was razor sharp all night long thanks to a record setting performance from quarterback Tom Brady, who completed 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady finished with a quarterback rating of 141.4, and his completion percentage of nearly 93% set a new postseason mark.
Jacksonville played hard throughout the game and gave a fine effort from whistle to gun, as they were in a tie ballgame with the undefeated Patriots at halftime. In the second half, New England flexed its offensive and defensive muscle, as they outscored the visiting Jaguars 17-6 to eventually pull away. The Jaguars defense couldn't find an answer for the New England offense, as defensive coordinator Mike Smith employed a 3-3-5 defense for much of the game, choosing to drop eight defenders in coverage and forcing Tom Brady and the Patriots to run the football and take short, underneath throws. Brady of course did that to near perfection, and Pats running back Laurence Maroney ran for 122 yards on 22 carries, including a touchdown. New England was so efficient that it scored on five of their first six offensive possessions before punting the ball away for the first time with less than 30 seconds left, and the game firmly in hand. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio spoke about the play of Tom Brady-
"[Tom] Brady was very, very good today. I mean, he's been great all year but he was patient. We made him be patient. We didn't give him a lot of things over the top. He was very patient, willing to take the short stuff [and] nibble a little bit. [They're a] good football team. They did a nice job."
The Jacksonville offense, led by David Garrard, gave a primetime performance of their own under the Saturday night lights. New England loaded up the line of scrimmage with defenders, and forced the Jaguars to throw the ball, and they were able to do so successfully. The Jacksonville offense racked up 350 total yards, 278 of which came through the air from the arm of Garrard. David had one of the best performances of his career, as he completed 22 of 33 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception. Garrard finished with a 100.3 quarterback rating. Del Rio talked about the Jaguars throw first philosophy in this game-
"We felt we were going to have to score a close game and we didn't want to play them to be them to be close; we wanted to play to win. We felt like that was going to be necessary. David [Garrard] played well. He gave us an opportunity to be in the ballgame, and we were right to the very end. We needed to get that ball back right there, see if we could go down again. Who knows what could happen, but that was definitely the approach."
Defensive end Reggie Hayward described the play of Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, in his biggest situation as a starting quarterback-
"Dave put us in a position to at least win. A lot of people didn't expect us to put up that many points and Dave came out there and he made plays throwing the ball and with his feet. That first touchdown was a great play. He was getting hit and he continued to see the open man and delivered the ball to him. The defense just let us down at some points during the game. We take a lot of pride in our defense and it hurts more because we had the opportunity to affect the outcome of the game and we couldn't step up to it."
Maurice Jones-Drew concluded his fine season with another solid all-around performance, as he was Garrard's leading receiver with six catches for 49 yards, and finished with 129 all-purpose yards. Tight end Marcedes Lewis chipped in with four catches for 74 yards, including a 34 yard reception on the game's opening drive that helped set up a Matt Jones eight yard touchdown catch. The little used Jones had a productive night, catching three passes for 48 yards including that first quarter score. Dennis Northcutt had an up and down evening, as he caught four balls for 42 yards, but will be remembered for a dropped pass near the Patriots goal line that would've likely tied the game up in the third quarter.
Jack Del Rio was asked about the drops, and responded-
"I don't like to play with hypothetical. We went out there and played hard. It wasn't quite enough to advance in the tournament. All in all, as I told the guys, [I'm] proud of the effort, proud of the way our team battled all year."
New England's top ranked offense, led by their record setting championship quarterback was better than advertised on this night. The Patriots carved up the Jaguars defense to the tune of 403 yards of total offense, and despite the Jacksonville offense moving the ball freely, the defense could not get much needed stops when it counted the most. Jaguars safety Sammy Knight described what the Pats top-ranked offense did to the Jacksonville defense-
"We didn't want to give away the deep ball, but in the process they killed us underneath. We had to make plays and then get off them off the field on third downs. They made the plays and we didn't. That's the bottom line. We did a good job pressuring of them at the end and he made a play and scrambled. We are going to look at this, grow from it, and come back next year and be ready. We had a pretty good game plan, but they made the plays to get us off the field on third down and we didn't. We gave up too many big plays and missed tackles."
For the Jaguars to have won this game and advance to their third AFC Championship game, they would've had to play a nearly perfect. Jack Del Rio gave his thoughts on a perfect game-
"Yeah, I mean, there is no such thing as a perfect game. There really isn't. You don't get to wait for somebody to play perfect. They're not playing perfect either, as good as they are, but the bottom line is we would have to play well. We played well at first, but not quite enough to take the cup."
The Jacksonville offense turned the ball over twice, and couldn't make big catches when it counted the most, on third down. The Jaguars defense, especially the secondary, missed numerous tackles all night long, couldn't generate any kind of pressure with their front three or four, and never really looked like they had a legitimate chance to stop the Patriots. That being stated, Jacksonville played a very solid ballgame, and they should be able to hold their heads up high.
Del Rio talked about a sense of accomplishment despite the defeat-
"We advanced in the playoffs, one playoff game against a good football team that won their division, that didn't lose at home except in games against us. There were definitely things to build on. I think you have to find a quarterback in order to advance in this league and play in the postseason. David certainly showed tonight that he's ready. He has played, really, the play of the offense and the play of our quarterback gave us a chance to stay in the game. With the firepower that they have, you have to score points. We did that early and ended up not getting enough to win, but we showed our ability to score points."
Saturday night's effort would've been good enough to beat nearly every team in the NFL, but unfortunately for them, they were playing the best team in the NFL, the now 17-0 New England Patriots. With a mostly young nucleus of talent, the Jaguars arrow is pointing straight up. If they have a solid offseason with just a few key free agent acquisitions and a solid draft, the Jaguars could take over the AFC South in 2008.
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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