It is no secret that the NFL and I don’t see eye to eye on many things but I have to give credit where credit is due. I have not followed the league very much this season, but boy-oh-boy have these playoffs been must see TV. Ok, you can skip that (yaaaaawwwnnn) Buffalo Bills 10-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, in the first round. Everything surrounding that however has been fantastic with plenty of drama going into the games and also during them. The AFC Championship game was no exception this week as the heavily favoured New England Patriots faced off against the surprising upstart Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now technically, the only drama that was supposed to happen in this game was figuring out how bad Tom Brady’s hand was and whether or not they would cover the point spread. The Patriots started off as 9.5 point favourites but it dropped to as low as 7.5 as questions surrounded Brady’s injury and just exactly how many stitches were needed. No one expected the Jaguars, the team with a total of zero, zilch, nada Super Bowl appearances to have any chance against the juggernaut that is Brady, Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Winning 5 championship rings in the last 15 years or so kinda means you’re pretty darn good.
But before even getting into what happened on the field, let me just stand up and applaud the people at CBS. They put together a “tease” with actor John Malkovich to help promote this game. You can never be sure what type of character Malkovich will play as he is quite versatile, but you can always be sure that it will be brilliant. This little five minute piece is no different.
Chills I tell you, chills! It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if someone showed this to the Jaguars before their game (or several times for that matter) because I certainly had to watch it more than once. For the briefest of times, even I was made to believe that anything was possible and that Jacksonville had a chance. That chance though seemed to dwindle early as the Pats opened the scoring with a field goal. But fear not historians, because little David was just warming up.
In the second quarter Jags QB Blake Bortles capped a 76 yard drive with a TD pass to Marcedes Lewis. The underdogs didn’t stop there as Leonard Fournette had a 4 yard TD run extending their lead to double digits, 14-3. Patriot fans started to get nervous and rightfully so. The last three times that New England was trailing during an AFC Championship game, they wound up losing all three times.
Brady helped ease that tension before the half ended as he took advantage of a couple of Jaguar penalties. The first was a 15 yard penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rob Gronkowski that sidelined him for the rest of the game with a concussion. The second was a 31 yard pass interference penalty that set up a James White’s touchdown. Pats were still down 14-10, but they had momentum.
Somebody forgot to tell Bortles and Jacksonville that they were “supposed” to roll over at this point as they did not. In the third quarter they were able to manage a pair of field goals and more importantly, keep the Patriots off the scoreboard to extend their lead 20-10. With a 10 point deficit to start the fourth quarter, Brady’s hand injury, and an ESPN expose a month ago indicating there was plenty of friction between the owner (Robert Kraft), the coach and the quarterback; it seemed well within reason that the giant would be slain.
But this sports story doesn’t have a fairytale ending as Brady and Belichick found a way yet again to steal a victory. They scored two touchdowns in that 4th quarter, the second with less than three minutes to go to take a 24-20 lead. They hung in the rest of the game and will now head to their 8th Super Bowl.
The victory seemed to fall in order with how all other big Patriot victories have been achieved. First, a steady and consistent Tom Brady who was 26/38 for 290 yards and 2 TDs. Secondly, a destructive opponent who made mental mistakes (penalties) at the worst times allowing the Pats to capitalize. Finally, there is usually some kind of controversy in their favour. We unfortunately all remember deflate gate, but for today it was a couple of bad officiating calls that will throw conspiracy theorists in fits. One in particular that could have been a game changer was a fumble recovery that was blown dead. It was 20-10 at this point and Myles Jack looked to cause and recover a fumble. The refs errantly blew the play dead (not sure why) but if they didn’t, it was possible Jack would have scored and blew the game open.
One thing that we have not seen in a Patriots victory however, and possibly more impressive than anything else was that fact that Belichick actually was filmed with a smile, celebrating a victory. Hell hath frozen over.
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