The Game: AFC Divisional Playoff Game – Jacksonville Jaguars at Patriots
The Place: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass
The Time: 8:00pm
The Channel: CBS
The Skinny: All of the good feelings that came along with an undefeated regular season means nothing when the Pats and Jags take the field Saturday night at Gillette. The Jags are coming off a hard fought 31-29 win at Pittsburgh and boast a two headed running attack and a smash mouth defense. The Pats are coming off a bye week and are rested and ready to go. Not many people are giving Jacksonville much of a chance. It’ll be a playoff atmosphere and weather won’t be a factor, so all signs are pointing to a Patriots blowout. But anything can happen in the playoffs.
3 Keys to the Game:
- STICK TO WHAT YOU’RE GOOD AT: In the final few weeks of the season the Patriots ran the ball much more than they did in the first 3/4 of the season. Laurence Maroney finally seems healthy and ready to shoulder the load. But the Patriots should stick to their strong suit – throwin’ the ball up. Jacksonville may have a “smash mouth” defense as cliche as that sounds, but they don’t have the personnel to stop the Patriots passing attack. I expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to spread out the Jags and throw it all over the field. As always, if Moss is able to get clean releases off the line of scrimmage, he will be tough to stop. It’s important that the Patriots know they can run if they need to, but the playoffs are not the time to tinker with your bread and butter.
- MAKE GARRARD BEAT YOU: The key for the Patriots is to get ahead by more than one TD and force the ball into Garrard’s hand. He was very efficient during the season with only a handful of interceptions but he did not have to throw it 30-40 times a game. A mediocre Steelers team forced him to throw and he made two terrible passes which led to interceptions. Garrard may be able to manage a game, but on the road in the playoffs against an undefeated team, he cannot win a game for his team.
- EXECUTE THE FUNDAMENTALS ON DEFENSE: Everyone knows about Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew and what they bring to the table. They each possess a low center of gravity and have tremendous leg strength. The Patriots must tackle effectively to stop them and not allow big plays. Jones-Drew is a threat on the ground, coming out of the backfield as a receiver and on special teams. His kick return against the Steelers after Pittsburgh had driven down for an opening drive touchdown set the tone for the evening and jump started his team to a 21-7 lead. The Pats must clog the middle and keep Taylor and Jones-Drew from busting a game-changing play. The Jags receivers are big and physical but none are big play guys so limiting the damage on the ground will be key.
Not many pundits give the Jags a shot and there’s a reason for that. It’s easy to look at the Jags’ two recent wins at Pittsburgh (the only two home losses for the Steelers all season) and think they are road warriors, but once you look at positional match-ups, most favor the Pats. The Jaguars simply don’t have the personnel to match up. If the Pats can score early and get up 14 it’ll be game over once Garrard has to take the game by the horns. The Patriots have never lost a Divisional Round home game and Saturday will be no different. The Pats should be able to cover the 13.5 point spread with ease and set up the salivating contest with the Colts in the AFC title game.
Patriots 38, Jaguars 20
Tags: David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars, Josh McDaniels, Laurence Maroney, Patriots