Sunday, December 24, 2006
I try not to use this word very much when it comes to sports. I feel like it gets overused and misused by people when they talk about sports. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars were LUCKY to be in this game when it came down to the wire.
The Pats knew the task ahead of them before the game. Win and you're in. Lose and you might not be. The Jaguars weren't going to be as easy to beat as Houston was. They were 8-6 and in the running for the Wild Card spot. They had a very good defense and a solid running game, the foundations of a good football team.
This was a test game for the Patriots. We hadn't played a contending team since November 26th when we beat Chicago. Since then, we had barely beaten the Lions and were shutout by the Dolphins. We had been 5-3 against contending teams coming into this one (only 3-3 if you don't consider Buffalo competitive). This game was going to be a late season test of the Pats.
The game began with an exchange of drives that ended in punts. The Pats forced the Jags to punt again and got the ball back at their 31. Tom Brady got his 3rd carry of the game in the 1st quarter. He would end up with 10 overall. The Patriots benefited from a 15 yard face mask penalty as the 1st quarter ended 0-0. At the beginning of the 2nd, they had a 4th and 1 on the Jaguar 26. Brady was lined up for another sneak, but the play was whistled dead. Brady was called for a false start. Now, I didn't see much of a false start, and it is very strange when the QB's number gets called for moving early. He typically knows when the ball has been snapped.
So anyway, the ball was moved back and on 4th and 6, the Pats kicked a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. The Pats kicked it off and with their first offensive play of the series, the Jags got into the end zone. Here's how:
Maurice Jones-Drew was given the ball in the backfield, he ran to his right behind his offensive linemen. The linemen, however, were unable to drive forward and Jones-Drew literally ran into his guard. The collision knocked him down to the ground. BUT, he had yet to be touched by a Patriot so he wasn't down. Jones-Drew got up, just as Tully Banta-Cain (too many hyphens) arrived at the line of scrimmage.
Jones-Drew got up before Banta-Cain touched him. Banta-Cain had come up to the line, saw Jones-Drew was on the ground, and held up. He hadn't seen HOW Jones-Drew was knocked down and probably assumed he had been taken down by a Patriot. Banta-Cain also probably assumed that if he hit Jones-Drew after he had been downed, the flags would be flying.
Jones-Drew took advantage of this pause in the action, got up, and ran. The Pats D wasn't able to haul him down and he ran into the end zone for a touchdown.
Now, you can call Banta-Cain's hesitation a "mental error," but I think it's too simple for that. I think the play was simply screwed up and bizarre. Should Banta-Cain have put a hand on him? Yeah. But he also should have plowed him into the ground if he's going to touch him. Nine out of ten times, though, he'd get a personal foul for this.
The run was only the second 20+ yard run the Patriots defense has allowed all season.
The Pats replied with a stalled drive that lasted 4 plays before they punted away. The Jags went 3 and out and punted.
The Patriots next drive was vintage Tom Brady. 7 yard completion to Graham, 4 yard run by Maroney, 6 yard pass to Faulk, 5 yard pass to Childress, 6 yard pass to Faulk, 8 yard run by Maroney, 8 yard reception by Brown, 4 yard run by Faulk. These plays were all in a row. After an incompletion, Brady ran for 9 yards. On 3rd and 1, Brady hit Gaffney for a 1st down. On the play, the Jags rusher ran into Brady well after Brady got rid of the ball. To his credit, Brady didn't dive or flail on the ground or moan like a Manning, but the refs threw the flag anyway. 1st down on the 10. Faulk got 4, then Brady snuck for 5 to the 1. Dillon punched it in for the score. 10-7 Pats. The 1st half ended with that score.
David Thomas was the star of the next drive. He made a 5 yard gain turn into a 36 yarder. Then he made an amazing catch (off an amazing throw) in the end zone for his first career TD. 17-7.
The Jags and Pats exchanged drives that ended with missed field goals. For some reason CBS kept showing Gotskowski after his miss. However, the kick was a 49 yarder, not exactly a chip shot.
In the ensuing Jacksonville possession, we saw our 1,000th ticky tacky roughing the passer call of the year called on a Patriot. Richard Seymour, who was trying to sack the QB, ran into him after the ball was out. Flag thrown. Making the penalty even harsher was what happened with the ball. It found its way into the hands of Mike Vrabel.
The call was a ticky tacky call. We've seen it far too often this season. Instead of having the ball with a 10 point lead, 4 minutes left in the 3rd, and possession of the ball near midfield; the Jags were given the ball in our territory after the 15 yard penalty.
Immediately after the call, the Jaguars got to the 2 yard line and eventually punched it into the end zone. The Patriots responded nicely with a touchdown drive aided by some Jacksonville penalties. The Jags scored and we went 3 and out, but Rodney Harrison recovered a fumble that sealed the game.
The Patriots didn't play perfectly, but they played without screwing up in a big way. And if it weren't for that roughing penalty that negated a pick, the game probably would have been over much sooner than it was.
With the win, the Patriots wrapped up the AFC East for the 4th year in a row. This is also their 5th division title in 6 years. Since 2001, we've won 6 division championships, which is more than we had won in all the years before then.
Brady had maybe his best game of the season, not from a stats point of view, but from a leadership one. He had 10 carries for 31 yards (Dillon had 10 for 30), made some good throws, maneuvered in the pocket nicely, and orchestrated some nice drives.
As it is, the Patriots would be the 4th seed in the playoffs. They're tied with the Colts for the 3rd best record in the AFC, but the Colts hold the head-to-head win against us and it is the first tie-breaker. Indy hosts Miami next week.
At the moment, the 5th seed is the team we would play and that team is the vaunted Denver Broncos. But the situation is still very fluid. The Jets are the 6th seed, but they'll play tomorrow in Miami. Cincinnati, Kansas City, Tennessee, and Jacksonville are all 8-7 but are on the outside looking in right now.