The New England offense, in all its record-setting glory, was the story of the Patriots undefeated 2007 regular season. After the team's first postseason game -- Saturday night's 31-20 New England divisional-round win over the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium -- it appears the Tom Brady-led offense will have to continue to write the story if the Patriots going to finish a historically perfect march toward a fourth Super Bowl title in seven seasons.
Brady and Co. didn't disappoint coming out of the bye. To the contrary, a precision passing attack (26-of-28 passing) and an effective ground game (Laurence Maroney led the way with 22 carries for 122 yards and a score) paced New England over its physical and confident visitor. The Patriots scored touchdowns on their first two opening drives of both halves. Save for a missed field goal attempt that was forced by a New England penalty in the first place and the team's only punt with 21 seconds to play, the Patriots weren't stopped all night.
The same could be said for the Jaguars, at least up until the entire complexion of the game changed when Dennis Northcutt dropped a pass on the goal line with 4:14 to play in the third quarter. A battle that had seen both offenses march almost effortlessly to a 14-14 halftime tie looked to start the second half the same way. The Patriots drove to a score to open the third and Jacksonville could have done the same had Northcutt hauled in the potential 21-yard score. Instead Jacksonville settled for a 39-yard field goal, falling behind in the physical track meet.
"The game changed when we scored and they had to kick a field goal," Richard Seymour honestly summarized when asked about the second half.
From afar it may look like a Patriots defense that Rodney Harrison said was "cussed out" by Bill Belichick in the halftime locker room made second half adjustments and plays to beat Jacksonville. In reality dropped touchdowns - Matt Jones failed to catch a potential 7-yard score forcing another field goal early in the fourth quarter - kept the upstart Jags from hanging in this offensive fight for the full 12 rounds.
The New England defense has been so inconsistent and lackluster over the second half of the season - certainly more so than the group's No. 4 ranking in the regular season would suggest -- that some had surmised the unit was keeping things vanilla to save for the postseason. Subpar efforts against not so dominant offenses like the Eagles, Ravens and Giants were supposed to be left in the lethargy of the late season action.
But they weren't. While the Patriots focused on and held in check the two-headed monster of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew - just 66 yards on 19 carries - the pass defense was somewhat defenseless.
Like Eli Manning, A.J. Feeley and Kyle Boller, David Garrard found plenty of room to work in a New England secondary that was without a banged up Ellis Hobbs for most of the night. And it's not like Jacksonville's receiving corps - one that didn't have a single target catch more than 45 passes or total more than 629 yards all season - is a world-beating aerial attack.
Make no mistake the Patriots won by offense to open the postseason, just the way the team did most of the regular season. It was good enough.
"(Jacksonville) did a good job of keeping us off balance. Hats off to our offense for keeping us in the game," Seymour said.
"We have to learn from all these bad mistakes we made. Obviously we wouldn't like to come out and play crappy. But it happens," Harrison added.
After Saturday night's win and heading into a rematch with the rejuvenated if banged up Chargers, the questions remains whether the Patriots defense getting better by the week, heading into crunch time ready to play its best football against what should theoretically its greatest challenger?
"Well right now it doesn't really matter," Tedy Bruschi said. "It's about winning football games however you can, any way you can, whether it's by one, whether it's by 10."
That may be true in victory over the Jags, but it might matter next Sunday afternoon in the AFC title game when New England defenders will face another tough test in Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and the rest of the upstart Chargers.