|Undefeated Mirage Gives Way to Reality of Flawed Patriots Team in OT Loss to Broncos||Gronkowski Avoids Major Injury||Connelly’s Top Ten: Harper Drop, Officials Desperate to be Liked, Run Out Clock||There’s Hope for a Hanley Trade|
In what was clearly their best post-bye week performance of the year, the New England Patriots were able to convincingly top the playoff hopeful Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium Sunday, in a game that was over nearly before it ever begun.
The Pats ran all over the Jags, and then ran some more, and then some more. Amassing a season-high 197 yards on the ground, New England controlled the clock and time of possession throughout the game, en route to a lopsided 35-7 win, clinching the AFC East division title. After a one-season absence, the New England Patriots are playoff bound once again.
And when the Pats weren’t pounding the ball down Jacksonville’s throats on the ground, Tom Brady was connecting with anyone and everyone through the air with ease. Brady and the Pats receivers carved their way through Jacksonville’s secondary like Grandpa carved up the Christmas ham just days prior. No. 12 was on his way to his most accurate passing day of the season, and according to Cold Hard Football Facts, the 9th most accurate passing game in NFL history, going an astounding 23-for-26 through the air, for 267 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were to his good friend Randy Moss, who shouldn’t be the focus of criticism much this week at all.
It was the best 60 minutes of football the team had played in a while, which is a great sign heading into January playoff football. While several individuals could be highlighted, here comes three who elevated their game most.
It’s been more than a month since I felt him worthy of a “PAT on the Back,” but after a statistical day of historical proportions, it’s hard not to shine the light on No. 12. Brady, in his last two meetings against the Jags, has just 5 incompletions. Two years ago in the ’07 playoffs, Brady completed 26 of 28 passes, an NFL record for accuracy. He’s got more TD passes (7) in those two games than incompletions (5). Tom Brady hasn’t always looked healthy this season, but yesterday’s performance made believers out of all of us that he can lead this team through a potentially long playoff run in the AFC.
Morris has been a relative non-factor for the New England running game since coming back from injury. But after a goal line fumble was lost by starter Laurence Maroney on the opening drive, it was Morris who came in and saved the day for the Pats’ ground attack. Morris led the way with 95 yards on the ground on just 12 carries, highlighted by a 55-yard rumble in the second quarter that eventually led to a 1-yard touchdown run, capped off by Morris. They say defense wins championships, but along with defense, a solid running game ranks high on the list as well. For the Patriots to roll through quality opponents in January, they will have to rely on Morris, Maroney, and the rest of the backfield crew to come up with games like Sammy Morris put up on Sunday.
Sure, I could have gone with Randy Moss as my third choice, but really, Moss had the kind of day you’ve come to expect from the future Hall of Famer. It’s guys like Brandon Meriweather who stepped up yesterday and delivered. Meriweather’s play peaked early in the year, but in the past month or so, his performance had slipped. Yesterday, Meriweather led a defense that held probable Pro Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew to just 63 yards on the ground, and was pitching a shutout until a late fourth quarter TD scramble by QB David Garrard took away the goose-egg next to the Jags on the scoreboard. Meriweather’s six tackles were good for second on the team behind linebacker Jerod Mayo, and his first quarter interception took the wind out of the sails on Jacksonville’s best first half chance at points. His 56-yard return of that pick helped set up the Tom Brady’s second TD pass on the day, a 26-yard strike, threading the needle to tight end Chris Baker. Meriweather, along with secondary mate James Sanders, both stepped up their game Sunday… hopefully a sign of things to come in the coming weeks.