By Danny Cox
The New England Patriots held a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter in the AFC Championship game, but the Jacksonville Jaguars soon took a 7-3 lead with 14:15 left in the second quarter. For almost three quarters, the Jags took control and held onto it with a stifling defense and an offense that was playing surprisingly well.
With just 2:48 left in the game, the Pats regained their edge and held on for a 24-20 victory. The win will lead New England to another Super Bowl appearance, but the game certainly wasn’t without its troubles.
For almost the entire game, the Patriots offense could get nothing going and almost half of their yardage came in the fourth quarter alone. It didn’t help matters that tight end Rob Gronkowski had to leave the game just before the half after a head-to-head collision with Jaguars safety Barry Church. Gronkowski didn’t return after the half and his status for the big game in two weeks will likely now be in question.
Luckily, the final score is all that matters, and Danny Amendola was able to step up. He may not have had the most receiving yards on the day, but it was the Danny Amendola show in the fourth quarter. His seven receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns don’t even begin to describe how important he was on Sunday.
Tom Brady played very well with 290 yards and two TDs on 26-of-38 passing, but again, most of his production came in the final 15 minutes.
Dion Lewis had a sub-par game running the ball as he ended with just 34 yards on the ground, which isn’t surprising as the Pats had to essentially abandon the run early on. He did fumble the ball away on an amazing play by the Jacksonville defense, but his 18-yard run on third-and-nine towards the end of the game sealed the victory for the Pats and made everyone forget about that fumble.
Blake Bortles has been slowly improving throughout the season, and he played the best game of his career on Sunday afternoon, but he just couldn’t make it all the way to the end. New England allowed Bortles to have a good bit of time in the pocket, which allowed him to be patient and find his receivers throughout the day.
Leonard Fournette wasn’t totally contained, but the Pats’ front seven did a good job of keeping him in check. The rookie out of LSU could never quite break out and really get into the open field, and that forced Bortles to have to do a bit more work than Jacksonville likely wanted him to do. If not for New England’s defense and strength down the stretch, this game could have ended very differently.
Special Teams: B+
Danny Amendola not only had a great game as a receiver, but his late 20-yard punt return also helped the Patriots get an offensive drive going that led to the go-ahead score.
Stephen Gostkowski hit all three of his extra points and his lone field goal attempt, which was from 31 yards. Ryan Allen had a good day punting the ball as he pinned the Jaguars inside their own 20-yard-line on three of his six boots.
There were many times during the day that Bill Belichick looked not only frustrated on the sideline, but also confused. A lot of the things that have worked and worked well all season just weren’t cutting it for New England. They tried to get a bit cute at times and it appeared to come back to bite them against a defense that is one of the very best in the NFL.
Still, Belichick knew what needed to be done to get his team back in the game, and that was unleashing Tom Brady to allow him to do what he does best. Just when the Patriots have you thinking they’ve finally met their match, Belichick finds a way to bring them back.
Up Next: The Pats now have two weeks until their next game, which will indeed be the biggest one of all: the New England Patriots’ 10th Super Bowl appearance. Now, they will have to face off against the best in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, and see if they can bring home another championship.