Questions Answered in Defeat

Saturday evening's divisional playoff game between the Jaguars and Patriots proved to be a giant measuring stick for the Jaguars. The Jaguars had an opportunity to test themselves against the best team in the NFL, probably the best team over the last 15 years, and the final result showed that the Jaguars are close, probably closer than the 31-20 final score indicated.

There are no moral victories in the NFL, but the Jaguars and their fans can hold their heads up high regarding this season's performance and the outlook of the future. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio saw a silver lining in 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."

As expected, the well coached, always prepared Patriots did what they do best, take away their opponents strength and forced them to win with their weaknesses. The perceived strength of the Jaguars was their rushing attack, and they gained just 80 yards on 22 attempts, which was a little more than half of their season average. Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi talked about the Jaguars running backs-

"That is the best 1-2 punch running back tandem we've faced all year. [Maurice] Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, those guys run hard. They run in between the tackles, they're driving for extra yards. Those are two great backs. I really respect those two backs, that offensive line, and just the mentality they have to, even if the holes not there, just keep pushing the pile. You saw that a couple times, too. So we had to buckle down, sometimes and try our best to get more than they were, and do our best to contain them."

With the Patriots loading up the line of scrimmage with defenders, the Jaguars were forced to throw the football to score. After quarterback David Garrard's lackluster passing performance of a week ago, nobody really knew what to expect. All Garrard did was complete 22 of 33 passes for 278 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. For a little over one half of play, Garrard stood toe to toe with what could be the best quarterback in the history of the NFL, and although his team came up a little short, Garrard proved that his poor game of a week ago was an aberration, and the Jaguars have their quarterback of the present and foreseeable future. Jack Del Rio described the game plan and Garrard' performance-

"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."

There were certain questions about the Jaguars pass defense, as they finished the season ranked 15th overall. First and foremost, the questions were with the Jaguars pass rush or lack thereof. Following the Patriots opening play on offense, in which Tom Brady held the ball too long and was sacked by defensive tackle John Henderson, the Jaguars defense didn't lay a hand on Brady. That helped him have his record breaking performance in which he completed 26 of 28 passes, for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Jaguars registered zero passes defensed for the game. Del Rio talked about the lack of pressure-

"We do the best we can to get after it. We got one early and then weren't able to get there."

Former Jaguars, current Patriots tight end Kyle Brady spoke about Brady's performance-

"I think we get spoiled sometimes though because that's kind of been the status quo for him this year. Some places you go, it's not that way and when a guy has a game like that, it seems unusual, but he's had those types of games very consistently this year so I wasn't aware of it until you made me aware of it. But it is incredible."

Another major area of deficiency for the Jaguars was tackling. The Jaguars secondary, especially cornerback Rashean Mathis and safety Reggie Nelson, did a terrible job of tackling the New England receivers. Mathis is a former Pro Bowler and Nelson is a first round draft pick, so replacing them isn't an option, but they need to tackle better. Jack Del Rio chose to wait before giving a true response regarding his defense's tacklling-

"I thought it was OK. We knew there would be the underneath, the passing game to have to tackle, that that would be part of our game. In order to play well, we'd have to do a good job of that. Without looking at the film on those, it was just OK."

Terry Cousin weighed in--

"We just didn't execute defensively when we had them second and long a few times and we end up missing a tackle and then they are third and short. Then we give them a chance to convert. If we make our tackles, especially at the beginning of the game, and limit them to no explosive plays, those are things we talk about doing. A few times we had six defensive backs out there and they hit with the run. That is their game plan and they are going to run when needed."

The final question that needed to be answered, not only before the game, but coming into the season was at the wide receiver position. The Jaguars added Dennis Northcutt prior to the season, and Northcutt was a key contributor to the offense all year long. Reggie Williams had the best year of his career, and Ernest Wilford's hands were improved significantly. In Saturday's game, the Jaguars offense looked unstoppable at times, and were keeping up with the New England juggernaut right up to the point where Dennis Northcutt dropped a key third down pass near the goal line. The Jaguars had one more key miscue when Matt   Jones dropped a jump ball in the corner of the end zone. Both plays would've accounted for scores, but the Jaguars were forced to kick field goals after. To put it simply, the Jaguars current group of receivers are nice players, but there isn't a game changer among them. If David Garrard is going to continue to ascend into the ranks of the truly elite quarterbacks, he needs a legitimate deep threat and/or playmaker at wide receiver. David Garrard was asked if the Jaguars needed a premium type of wide receiver and he responded-

"I think this offense is great where it is. You can always add stuff to it, but I think we showed that we can play with whoever. That is important. It is not necessary that you have a guy that everybody locks in on and you feel like you have to get him the ball. We need just players. We need guys who are willing to make plays, who will go across the middle, willing to block. Those are big for receivers. I think if we can just add to what we have, we have a great nucleus already and if we add anything to it, it can do nothing but add icing to the cake."

We understand that Garrard is a great teammate, and he won't call out his teammates. Luckily for Garrard, we will: "he needs more talent at wide receiver!" Garrard couldn't have played much better in that New England game, and his efforts were enough to defeat just about any team in the NFL. The wide receivers' efforts, not so much. The Jaguars are estimated at nearly $30 million under the salary cap for 2006 and must address their obvious needs at defensive end, safety, and wide receiver. The questions at those positions were clearly answered on Saturday night.


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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