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Notes and Observations, Week 16: Patriots Escape Jacksonville with 23-16 Win

Danny Woodhead has consistently made big plays all season and Sunday in Jacksonville was no different as he caught another touchdown pass. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Going into Jacksonville Sunday, the Patriots already had their playoff spot figured out. They will most likely be the third seed unless somehow the Broncos and Texans fall apart in the final two weeks. They had three major starters out with Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes, and Alfonzo Dennard all not making the trip. The Patriots had very little to play for and the 2-12 Jaguars saw Sunday’s game as an opportunity to make a statement. They were classic ingredients for a trap game. Early on, it looked like that was exactly the case.

First Half

– To say Chad Henne and the Jaguars offense marched down the field on that first drive would be a gross understatement. They ripped off huge chunks of yards from the first pass to rookie Justin Blackmon for 18 yards, to Montell Owens ripping off 14- and 12-yard plays consecutively. The drive ended the way it started with Henne connecting with Blackmon. This time it was for a 3-yard touchdown reception. Henne was 6-6 on the drive.

– The defense was missing some key components to start. Starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard both did not start. Dennard didn’t make the trip along with Brandon Spikes and Rob Gronkowski. Talib made his return in the second quarter.

– The first interception that T0m Brady threw could be placed on Stevan Ridley. He showed no effort in coming back to the ball, but at the same time the coverage was good and Brady shouldn’t have tried to force it.

– The same can be said about his second interception. Brandon Lloyd was covered well by Derek Cox but Brady still tried to force it. The result was Brady’s second interception of the first quarter and fourth in the past two games. He had only four interceptions prior to these past two weeks.

– The Jaguars on defense didn’t appear to be doing anything extravagant. They seemed to be rushing four mostly while occasionally sending an extra pass rusher. They focused on strong coverage and preventing yards after the catch. For the most part it worked, except for the last drive of the first half.

– The Patriots’ defense looked porous to say the least on the first drive but they buckled down on the following drives from the Jaguars. They forced three field goal attempts, of which only two were converted. They also forced a couple much needed punts. The biggest note was how the rate to which Belichick was subbing players in and out. Justin Francis and Trevor Scott saw some significant time and both made an impact. Scott and Francis were able to apply pressure on Henne, and Francis also drew a holding penalty. Both of these defensive lineman have played well in the time they’ve been allotted which speaks well of the depth of the team.

– The last drive of the half for the Patriots was exactly what they needed to shake the cobwebs loose, so to speak. They ran off 10 plays for 66 yards in just 3:31. Ridley had a key third down conversion where the Patriots went to the old direct snap play. Wes Welker also had 4 catches for 33 yards on the drive. The drive came to an end with a touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead on a wheel route towards the sideline. Woodhead continually has made key plays for the offense all season. Mike Reiss tweeted the question if there has been a more consistent player (offensively) in 2012 than Danny Woodhead, and I can’t say that there has been.

– As sloppy as the Patriots played in the first half they still went to the half with a tie score. Could have been worse.

Second Half

– The Patriots were able to take the lead for the first time when their first drive of the third quarter resulted in another Stephen Gostkowski field goal. However the big story was how well the defense played early in the second half. The Jaguars had the ball four times in the third quarter. They punted three times and Henne was intercepted by Marquice Cole. Even with all the shuffling of the secondary they were still able to make a play when they had to.

– The Patriots then ran another vintage drive to end the third quarter. They ran off 11 plays utilizing runs, passes, and their trademark no huddle offense. They key play was a 25-yard throw and catch from Brady to Welker to set the Patriots up inside the red-zone. After being stuffed on consecutive run plays, Brady hit Welker on a quick out pattern for the touchdown, and the 23-13 lead.

– After starting poorly the Patriots were able to score 20 unanswered points. The defense deserves most of the credit for that. While the offense was finally able to put up some points the defense played strong, keeping the Jaguars from scoring for the entire third quarter.

– As good as the defense was in the third quarter, they seemed to regress in the fourth. Once again they were allowing receivers to catch balls uncontested, as well as allowing plenty of yards after the catch. One of my biggest problems with this defense is that they never cover the check down receiver. Every week they allow running backs out of the backfield catch short one to two yard passes and then run for 10 yards. Sunday they gave up a 55 yard catch and run to Montell Owens on a 2 yard pass. Those plays cannot happen.

– The long drive in the fourth quarter by the Jaguars was about as “bend but don’t break” as the Patriots’ defense possibly could have been. They were pushed all the way to the one yard line and the Jaguars looked destined to tie the game up. A lucky false start penalty backed the Jaguars up to the six yard line. The rookie Dont’a Hightower then made his presence felt by leveling Chad Henne on third down to force a 4th and goal from just outside the 10. Fellow rookie Chandler Jones then made an impact of his own. He hit Henne’s arm as he threw the ball which allowed Patrick Chung to intercept the pass and end the drive. Back-to-back big plays from the rookies on defense could not have come at a better time.

– The Patriots offensive line did not have one of their better games. Brady faced pressure all day and took quite a few hits that looked far too easy. Like I mentioned earlier it didn’t appear that the Jaguars were doing anything complex on defense. They were mostly sending four pass rushers with the rest in coverage. They focused on strong coverage from their linebackers and secondary to allow their defensive line to create pressure. The offensive line looked over-matched for much of this game and that is not a good sign moving forward.

– The offense, like so many other times in recent history, was not able to put the game on ice and the defense was once again put in the position to stop the offense on the last drive. Patrick Chung came up with the game ending interception as all of New England sighed knowing they Patriots escaped Jacksonville with the win.


About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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