Yesterday during a blistering hot and muggy day in Jacksonville where the real feel temp on the field was hovering around 107° at kickoff, we saw the Jaguars and Patriots play in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship. Last year’s game resulted in the Patriots overcoming a 10 point 4th quarter deficit to earn a spot in their record-setting 10th Super Bowl overall as a franchise. And while that game last January didn’t come without controversy (was Myles Jack down?), it was a classic case of the Patriots in the Tom Brady era proving their ability to overcome almost impossible circumstances and grasp a victory from the edge of defeat.
That’s why yesterday when the Jaguars jumped out early to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, every Patriots fan in the world went through the list of classic rationalizations they pull out every time their team trails in a game. “Relaxxxxxx, we got Brady, we’ll be fine” or “We like making comebacks, don’t forget 28-3!”
But yesterday was not the AFC championship, or the playoffs for that matter, where the ageless wonder Tom Brady seems to perform superhuman feats at the rate us mere mortals manage to perform menial tasks like taking out the garbage. It was Week 2 of the regular season in the month of September, a month the Patriots dynasty has historically looked pedestrian in. Not to mention the fact that prior to this game, Brady, the winningest QB in the history of football, had an all-time record of 1-6 in games where the temperature at game time was above 90°. Also, note his career record in Miami, which is currently 7-9.
You can make all the jokes you want about Brady not being able to handle the “heat” and that would be an accurate assessment given that record, but yesterday’s loss had a lot less to do with Brady (even though he didn’t look great) and a lot more to do with the team overall on both sides of the ball.
We’ve been hearing the chirps for weeks now about who in the hell Tom Brady is going to throw the ball to and the fact that the Patriots need to sign or trade for a wide receiver. We’ve heard the name Dez Bryant thrown out there a bunch, (often by Dez himself) along with the idea they should trade for Josh Gordon, both talented players that could help but who also bring baggage along with them. With Brady looking fine and hitting targets Week 1, it put a little ease to those thoughts even though they did still sign a waiver on another possible headcase in Corey Coleman. But faced with an extremely talented Jaguars defense, the need became overtly glaring that this receiving core, as currently constructed, is just not going to cut it. No one was getting the separation needed for Brady to get the ball consistently down the field. That included Rob Gronkowski, who was kept to a mediocre two receptions for 15 yards thanks largely in part to S. Tashuan Gibson (not Jalen Ramsey) and the Jaguars’ strategy of basically keeping him in double coverage all day with the help of one of the most athletic line-backing corps in the league.
Sure, they missed Julian Edelman today, who for years would be Brady’s go-to option against a team like the Jaguars, a team who loves to play physical, can take away your biggest weapons, and has a defensive line that loves to get after the quarterback (hence the nickname “Sacksonville”). Edelman has made a career of finding the soft spots in a zone defense that Jacksonville played in for a large portion of the game and he enables Brady to get the ball out at a blistering rate that makes it near impossible to get to him. But even when he returns in Week 5, we are talking about a 32 year old slot receiver, coming off an ACL injury, that will not have played a down of real football in the past 20 regular season games. Who knows how long it will take him to return to a shade of his former self, if he even does at all. Bottom line is this receiving core needs help, big time. There’s a reason guys like Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett, both former first round picks, are making a combined $5.375 million this year, and it’s not because they were feeling generous.
The Patriots defense, on the other hand, also posted a very disappointing performance after a Week 1 game against Houston where they made Deshaun Watson wish he took a couple more weeks to come back from that ACL tear. They were aggressive, stuffed the run, and for the most part played great coverage, especially against All-Pro wide receiver Deandre Hopkins. That defense didn’t show up today by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, they made Blake Bortles look like the fugly caterpillar that finally cocooned into a butterfly and spread his wings. Bortles went 29/45 for 377 yrds, 4 TD and 1 Int (that wasn’t really his fault) in arguably the best game of his entire career. Bortles, for as much as he deserves credit for a great game, did not do anything spectacular, he basically dinked and dunked down the field the entire game to his speedy receivers and RB’s. The majority of their passing attack were horizontal plays across the field that required throws of no longer than 5-10 yards a clip. It seemed like the opposite approach you would take against a quarterback who has consistently struggled over his career to make the accurate throw down the field for a big play. It was typical Patriots “bend don’t break” defensive coverage, except in this case the Jaguars bent it till it broke.
It didn’t help that the Patriots lost defensive captain Patrick Chung to a concussion in the first half (a concussion that will most likely draw scrutiny from the league because he returned to the field afterwards), and DE Trey Flowers, who also exited early with a head injury. But it’s not an excuse for the poor play and is not a valid reason for why they were unable to sack Bortles even once during the course of the game. Even on times when they forced Bortles to roll out of the pocket, he would get out to the side of the field and find about 10-15 yds of field to work with for an easy scamper for a first down. None stung worse that an ultimately game-ending run on 3rd & 8 with 3:07 left in the 4th where he scampered for 10 yds while the Patriots’ secondary was still backpedaling for the pass with Bortles 5 yds past the line of scrimmage. That’s not a play a typical Bill Belichick coached team allows, and it put an exclamation mark on a day that saw their defense return to the form of unit that allowed Nick Foles to shred them in the Super Bowl.
Special Teams also didn’t show up ready to play yesterday, first with a missed kick from 54 yds from Gostkowski. Which although wayyy wide right is somewhat excusable compared to some of the other kicks missed around the NFL this week. But late in the 3rd after the Patriots first touchdown of the game, there was a 15 yard penalty enforced against Jacksonville on the PAT that allowed the Patriots to kickoff from the 50. At that point in the game, the momentum had slightly shifted with every Jag-off in the stadium collectively having flashbacks to the last time they let Tom Brady and the Patriots get back into a football game. The Patriots were set to pin the Jaguars deep with one of their famous pooch kicks to the corner of the field (which I’m sure the anti kickoff Nazis hate). Instead, Gostkowski put it a yard into the endzone and Jacksonville smartly took a knee instead of taking it out. Jacksonville ultimately went 3 and out, but the slight momentum shift the Patriots had was wiped out and never really returned the rest of the way.
I was actually at the game yesterday, and although I do believe the Patriots will be absolutely fine because they always are and they always drop games early like this (anyone that says otherwise is letting their hatred dilute their memories). I did have a moment or two sitting in that stadium that made me think this is nowhere the Patriots want to come in January. Which very well could happen now knowing that this team holds the tiebreaker over them and I predict both teams being in the 12-4/11-5 range. I was almost in shock at the way their fans came out and made that environment a true playoff-like atmosphere for a Week 2 game. I’ll admit, on my way to the game I was expecting something more like when the Red Sox play in the Trop in Tampa Bay, aka Fenway Jr., not the ruckus environment I stepped into inside the stadium. Jacksonville has fully embraced this young team and I have to admit, I couldn’t help but be happy for the season ticket holders I sat next to that described to me how they’ve been there for seven years and stayed loyal, even since the days they used to tarp off the entire upper deck because no one would come. They also had to explain what “Duuuuuvalll” their slogan of choice meant (it’s the county that Jacksonville’s in, which made me feel dumb). Those fans deserve a good team and Jacksonville as a community, which has one of the highest poverty and crime rates in the country, deserves to have something they can rally around. They have pretty much gone two full decades without having a competitive team until last season, coincidentally around the same time the Patriots dynasty got underway. I don’t foresee a Patriots-like run for these up and coming Jaguars (I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again) but it would not shock me to see them have the same level of success that the Seattle Seahawks went on for a few years with a ultra-talented defense that can carry this team through the playoffs and to a Super Bowl title. That all remains to be seen. But without a doubt, they proved yesterday they are not to be taken lightly anymore. And if Bortles can play anywhere close to what he was yesterday and do it on a consistent basis, then these Jags will be putting the entire league on notice shortly.
UPDATE****** PATRIOTS HAVE TRADED A 5TH ROUND DRAFT PICK FOR JOSH GORDON. MORE TO COME ON THAT TRADE TONIGHT.