The game was close, at least for a while. Then Tom Brady then turned in the most accurate passing performance in NFL history to lead the New England Patriots to another playoff victory Saturday night. Brady threw 26 completions in 28 attempts for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns. His 92.9 completion percentage surpassed Vinny Testaverde's (91.3%) regular season record and Phil Simms' (88%) postseason record.
"Yeah, was a little disappointing, the two he missed," Said Bill Belichick in jest. "You know, Tom, has been a great quarterback for us and his whole career here he's been great in the big games and [he was] outstanding tonight. I thought he managed the team well."
|New England Patriots' Ty Warren, right, sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard (9) causing him to fumble the ball in the first half of a NFL divisional playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)|
Brady started the game by completing 16 passes in a row for 147 yards and a touchdown. It wasn't until the third quarter when one of his tosses fell to the ground incomplete.
"It's easy when you have receivers that are open all the time and an offensive line that never let's anyone touch you," said Brady. "It makes it fun to play."
David Garrard started the scoring by directing the Jaguars on a 9-play 80-yard drive to jump out to an early lead. It was Garrard's passing which enable the Jaguars to move down the field effectively, as Fred Taylor managed just 6 yards on 3 carries. The Jaguars converted a key fourth-and-1 play to sustain the drive.
The Jaguars' score was the first time the Patriots allowed an opponent to put points on the board in the opening drive of a playoff game since 1998. The 7-0 lead was the only lead Jacksonville would have on the day.
Brady answered by directing the Patriots on a 10-play 74-yard touchdown scoring drive of their own to tie the game at 7. The Patriots also converted on fourth down, a fourth-and-5 from the Jacksonville 40.
The Patriots brought pressure on Garrard on the second possession. Ty Warren sacked and stripped Garrard resulting in the first turnover of the game. The Patriots turned to the ground game to drive 29 yards in seven plays capped by in a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Laurence Maroney.
Maroney's strong running performance took pressure off the offensive line protecting Brady in the passing game. Jacksonville was content to let New England run and throw the underneath patterns, but they weren't going to let New England hit the deep pass. The Jaguars game plan was designed to keep Randy Moss from having a big day.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls signals behind guard Stephen Neal (61) and center Dan Koppen (67) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
"We knew we were going to roll up a lot, put Brian [Williams] on him," Said Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio. "[Williams] gave us a chance to work [Moss] a little bit and keep him from dominating the game."
Unfortunately the other part of the Jaguars' game plan - to run against a supposedly porous Patriots run defense - didn't pan out so well. Jacksonville's runners gained just 66 yards on the ground rushing 19 times for a 3.5 avg. The Patriots were determined to slow down the Jaguars ground game, often bringing Rodney Harrison into the box.
"That was a big emphasis. Obviously, that's their strength," Said Harrison. "But like I said you've got to give [our defense] a lot of credit. I mean our guys up front, those guys played terrific. They made a lot of plays in the backfield, they were very physical."
The game remained tied in the first half after the Jaguars put the ball in the end zone to cap an impressive 11-play 95-yard scoring drive. New England was unable to respond when Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
After the half, Brady directed the Patriots on an 11-play 92-yard scoring drive highlighted by a statue of liberty play at the goal line. Brady faked a fake snap to Kevin Faulk, one of New England's classic goal line trick plays. The Jaguars bit on the play fake; Brady turned around and hit an open Wes Welker in the back of the end zone to put New England up 21-14.
Jacksonville answered with a score of its own, but was forced to settle for a field goal when Denis Northcutt dropped a would-be first down near the goal line. It was the turning point of the game. And the Patriots took advantage.
7-plays after the kickoff, New England was in the end zone again. The drive started with a 29-yard burst by Maroney and ended on a Brady to Ben Watson 9-yard TD. The score put the Patriots up 28 - 17.
|Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard (9) throws in front of New England Patriots' Richard Seymour (93) Jan. 12, 2008 (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)|
Garrard couldn't get back into the same rhythm the Jaguars offense had in the first half. Three incompletions after a first and goal from the nine forced Jacksonville to kick another field goal. The points were important, but Jacksonville continued to trail by 8. more importantly, they had to give the ball back to Tom Brady with plenty of time on the clock.
Brady wasted no time getting the Patriots rolling. A short run by Maroney set up a play-action pass to forgotten receiver Donte Stallworth. Stallworth turned a fingertip catch into a 53-yard catch and run deep into Jacksonville territory, but he got caught from behind before he could score. New England kicked a field goal four plays later.
"I just know I stuck one hand out there and I tried to tip it to myself and I was just thinking, 'Run Forrest. Run,'" said Stallworth of the catch. "But obviously I wish I was Forrest because Forrest never got caught."
It wasn't the only heroics Stallworth had on the day. David Garrard threw an interception to Rodney Harrison deep in New England territory on their next possession. On a third-and-7 in their territory, New England needed a crucial first down to keep the clock running. Brady threw left to Stallworth who put a move on one defender then leapt with outstretched arms to gain the first down. It was an athletic play, his teammate and coaches insist he makes on a regular basis. The move allowed New England to run the clock down to under 30 seconds before punting. Stallworth's two plays in effect put the final nails in the coffin for Jacksonville.
"Jacksonville played great," said Stallworth. "We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in with them coming in here and the way that they've played all season. You've got to tip your hats off to that team."
Indeed. Jacksonville certainly earned the title of most dangerous team the Patriots might face in the playoffs. It's now up to the winner of the San Diego Chargers - Indianapolis Colts game on Sunday to change that perception.
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