PHOTO: New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest (55) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich during the fourth quarter of their wild card playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006. It was McGinest's third sack of the game. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
If the Patriots weren't getting any respect before, they sure are now. With another dominant showing by the defense, and an offense that found its groove in the second half, the Patriots defeated Jacksonville 28-3 in a Wild Card playoff match-up at Gillette Stadium.
Tedy Bruschi dressed for the game but did not play. That left it up to fellow veteran Willie McGinest (who broke the career record for sacks in the playoffs) to lead the way for the defense. McGinest picked up 4.5 of the team's 6 sacks, as they pounded quarterback Byron Leftwich (18-for-31 for 179 yards). The defense held the Jaguars without a first down until the 2nd quarter, and never let the offense gain any rhythm. Leftwich -- who was playing for the first time since Week 12 due to an ankle injury -- was the team's leading rusher with just 26 yards.
Offensively, it took a while for the Patriots to get into high gear. Jacksonville got pressure on Tom Brady (they had 4 sacks) throughout the game, and their secondary had great coverage throughout the first half.
On their second possession, the Patriots went no huddle and started to move the ball. After a play action pass to Kevin Faulk (51 yards rushing and 45 yards receiving) picked up 12 yards, Faulk went up the middle through a huge hole for 19 yards. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-13, Brady (15-for-27 for 201 yards with 3 touchdowns) hit Branch with a 20-yard pass. But Brady was sacked two plays later when he couldn't find anyone open downfield. His 3rd down pass to Ben Watson (5 catches for 91 yards) went off his hands. Adam Vinatieri lined up for a 45-yard field goal attempt but took the direct snap and punted the ball to the 4-yard line.
Jacksonville picked up 7 yards on runs by Greg Jones and Fred Taylor. On 3rd-and-3 Byron Leftwich hit Taylor with a swing pass, but Mike Vrabel made a great tackle to force another punt. Chris Hanson's punt only went 30 yards, giving the Patriots the ball on Jacksonville's 43.
Corey Dillon (17 carries for 40 yards) entered the game for the first time on New England's next possession and picked up 5 yards on his first carry. The Patriots gained a first down, but after Dillon was stopped for no gain, Brady was forced to run when no one was open. On 3rd down he was sacked as the Jaguars played great pass coverage. With the ball on the 30-yard line, New England went for it on 4th-and-10, but Brady threw incomplete to Watson while under heavy pressure.
Jacksonville couldn't do anything with their next possession, as Leftwich lost 8 yards on a fumbled snap, a delay of game penalty pushed them back even further, and McGinest sacked Leftwich on 3rd down. Hanson got off a better punt but Tim Dwight took it to the outside, returning the kick 27 yards to the Jacksonville 37.
On 3rd-and-6, Faulk had another great run, picking up 18 yards. Three plays later, the Patriots got on the scoreboard as Brady hit Troy Brown with an 11-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.
Leftwich and the Jaguars picked up their first 1st down of the game on their next drive, as Leftwich completed passes to Ernest Wilford for 14 yards and Jimmy Smith for 19. On the next play, Alvin Pearman carried for the first time, picking up 4 yards before Eugene Wilson leveled him, forcing a fumble that Richard Seymour recovered.
The Patriots couldn't get anything going offensively and were forced to punt for the 3rd time. The Jaguars went on a 13-play, 54-yard drive, as Leftwich completed 4 straight passes and moved the Jaguars to the 18-yard line. Their second false start penalty of the drive forced them into 2nd-and-15. After completing an 11-yard pass to Reggie Williams, Leftwich threw incomplete as Ellis Hobbs had good coverage on Wilford in the end zone. Josh Scobee connected on a 36-yard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3.
With just 58 seconds left in the half, Brady hit Faulk with a 21-yard pass to the 50. Following a sack and a timeout, Brady threw a perfect pass to Deion Branch that would have been a sure touchdown, but Branch misplayed the ball. Brady was sacked once more and the clock ran out on a defensive first half.
Jacksonville opened the second half with another 3-and-out, and the New England offense finally kicked into gear. Brady -- who went 5-for-5 on the drive -- led the Patriots on an 81-yard, 12-play march. Faulk picked up 11 yards on back-to-back carries and was in on another big gain. Faulk took the direct snap and handed to Andre' Davis on the end around for 15 yards. On 2nd-and-9 from the 20, Brady hit Watson with an 8-yard pass but he fumbled. Davis pounced on it at the 3-yard line, and one play later Brady ran a nifty play fake and hit David Givens in the end zone for a 14-3 lead.
The Patriot defense forced another 3-and-out, as Jacksonville abandoned the run but couldn't move the ball through the air. The Patriots scored just five plays later. Dillon picked up 11 yards on his two best runs of the game. On 3rd-and-13, Brady hit Watson with a short pass. Watson broke 3 tackles, tip-toed down the sideline, and made it all the way to the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
Jacksonville moved into Patriots territory on their next possession, but McGinest sacked Leftwich on 3rd down. On 4th-and-5, Asante Samuel had a great read on a Leftwich pass, stepped in front of Williams, intercepted the ball and ran 73 yards to the end zone for a touchdown that sealed the victory.
The Patriots await the winner of tomorrow's other AFC game to find out who their opponent will be next weekend. If Cincinnati wins, the Patriots will travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts. If Pittsburgh wins, New England will face the Broncos in Denver.
Both Indianapolis and Denver beat the Patriots earlier this season, but this is a different team that has now won 7 of its last 9. The two-time defending Super Bowl champions remain a dangerous playoff team that is playing some of the best defense in the NFL right now.
Darren is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: DestinationSuperBowl. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "Darren Kelly"