Jacksonville Jaguars 20
New England Patriots 24
Sunday, January 21 st , 3:05 PM EST.
There are certain inevitabilities in sports, and some are more obvious than others. If you don’t pitch around Barry Bonds, he’s eventually going to hit the ball out of the yard. If you send Steph Curry to the free throw line, he’s going to hit most of those shots. And, if you don’t completely stifle the Patriots for all sixty minutes of a football game, Tom Brady is going to carve up your exhausted defense in the fourth quarter.
Despite the season-ending fourth down incompletion that New England cornerback Stefon Gilmore batted down, Jacksonville should leave their first AFC Championship since 1999 with their heads held high. These Jags are a young team with a lot to build on going forward, especially if you consider their 3-13 campaign last season. They can definitely play with the AFC’s best for years to come with only minor adjustments and additions. Jacksonville displayed a lock down secondary and a fearsome pass rush, plus one of the league’s best rushers in Leonard Fournette, if Bortles can continue to elevate his game, or they choose to bring in a mid to top tier quarterback, they’ll be downright scary. Sure, it’s a bitter pill to swallow when you lose a fourth quarter lead in the AFC Championship game, but their defense held Brady and company in check for three quarters and their offense was productive through the first half with Blake Bortles at the helm. The future is bright.
After halftime, Matt Patricia’s Patriot defense clearly adjusted to a smart Jaguars scheme and held the Jags increasingly conservative offense to a pair of field goals. The easy intermediate plays just weren’t there for Jacksonville, and Fournette couldn’t carry the momentum on the ground, finishing with 76 yards on 24 carries. Even with Gronkowski sidelined and in the locker room under the concussion protocol after a brutal helmet-to- helmet hit, it wouldn’t be enough to hold off Brady and the Patriots in the fourth quarter. Any time the Patriots lose Gronkowski, they lose a considerable advantage, especially in the red zone and on third downs. Against the tough Jacksonville defense, Brady looked uncomfortable momentarily, then settled on a new plan of action. This time, with the big tight end headed to the locker room, Brady went small, zipping passes to Danny Amendola in places only he could catch them. The trust between the two isn’t the same as the relationship Brady has with Gronkowski, or injured top receiver Julian Edelman, but clearly the two are on the same page with the game on the line. As time dwindled, the duo set the fourth quarter on fire, connecting for two touchdowns in under six minutes to take a lead that the defense wouldn’t relinquish.
Before you Jacksonville fans jump all over me about the penalty discrepancy on Sunday that seems to be making news for some reason, ponder this: According to NFLPenaltyTracker.com, the Jaguars were the NFL’s fourth most penalized team this season. The Patriots rank among the league’s eight least penalized teams. That’s not home cooking, that’s called discipline.
The Patriots are on to the big game in Minnesota, where they’ll play in their eighth Super Bowl in seventeen seasons. Win, or lose in that game, if this is the last hurrah for any part of the trio of Brady, Belichick and Kraft, it’s likely a run that will never be recreated.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.