Patriots Preview - Jumping the Jaguars
Friday, December 21, 2012
It's not the biggest game of the year for the Patriots, but it could prove to be the most important.
Sounds a bit silly, really, when you consider the 10-4 New England Patriots are two touchdown favorites against a 2-12 Jacksonville team in a game they NEED to win. But if the Patriots still hope to gain a bye in the opening round of the playoffs this year, they can't afford a loss - much less a letdown at this stage of the season.
It's really very simple - win at Jacksonville, and the Patriots need help from the Minnesota Vikings (against Houston) and/or the Cleveland Browns against Denver to keep their hopes alive of a playoff bye. And though it might be important in the overall scheme of things, the Patriots won't pay any attention to what anyone else is doing this weekend. They'll simply try to control what they can - and that's the match-up with the Jaguars.
The most trouble for the Patriots players this week, with all due respect to Jacksonville, may come from a 49er-hangover. With so much energy and effort expended in losing a 41-34 decision last Sunday, what's left in the tank? This game will test New England's professionalism - the players and coaches are paid to go down and play a game, and win that game - and championship-calibre teams find a way to do just that.
Even against a 2-12 team that may consider this game their own Super Bowl.
The Jaguars have nothing to lose...and that's when a team can be dangerous. They're next-to-last in scoring (15.6 points per game) and they're 29th in points allowed (27.3). But they have also played tough recently against some common opponents, having fought Houston to a 43-37 decision, and forced Miami to use long drives in order to win 24-3 last week. Former Patriots' draft pick Jeremy Mincey is having a good season at defensive end, and defensive end Jason Babin was picked up on waivers a few weeks back. Other than that, not much stands out on that side of the ball.
Offensively, quarterback Blaine Gabbert is on injured reserve, and an old Patriots nemesis in Chad Henne has taken over. Henne has had some success against NE in previous incarnation at Miami, and has two young receivers in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon who have speed and good hands. Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing a year ago, but has been out injured much of this season with a foot injury. It has been suggested he may try to play Sunday, although he has not practiced this week, and would definitely be a welcome addition.
The ultimate result may lie on the ability, or inability of the Patriots to take care of their own business. Distractions and disappointment aside, if this New England team is a true title contender, they'll figure out a way to win this one.
After all, it's the most important game of the season...because it's the next game on the schedule.
Get the Jump on the Jags
When a team is struggling like Jacksonville, there is no way you want them to think they can hang in there...and perhaps steal one in the end. It will be up to Tom Brady and the offense to take charge, seize control early and get an advantage on the scoreboard as soon as possible. Take the starch out of their shirts, the wind from their sails. And remember to not let up on the throttle.
Protect, protect, protect
Four turnovers against San Francisco helped spell defeat last week for the Patriots. They won't be able to do that again, if they hope to find the winning track again before the playoffs start. Stevan Ridley's small case of fumble-itis last week must be addressed...with a steady diet of hand-offs against this week against a Jags' defense that has not been great against the run. If Ridley can return to at least a semi-dominant role here, NE should have few problems overall.
Concern yourself with yourself
This week is about the Patriots. What kind of team are they? In ripping off a seven-game win streak, they dominated on offense, and improved on defense along the way. Turnovers certainly played a factor in the loss to the 49ers a week ago, but was that the only reason they lost? Some would say no...that the Niners showed a toughness that New England did not. Does that toughness exist? It's time to find out.