Another postseason game, another incredible win from Tom Brady and the Patriots.
New England's 24-20 victory over the Jaguars in Sunday's AFC championship game wasn't a miracle equivalent to last year's record Super Bowl comeback against the Falcons, but it was nonetheless impressive. No lead is safe over the Patriots, no situation impossible. Even as the Jaguars jumped out to leads of 14-3 and 20-10, mostly shutting down the Patriots offense with an exceptionally quick and hard-hitting defense, even after the Pats lost Rob Gronkowski to a concussion, New England seemed poised for a comeback.
Brady calmly completed the types of passes that have been frustrating opponents for years, leading the Patriots to two fourth-quarter touchdowns to win the game.
Here's how the Jaguars lost a game they appeared en route to winning.
1. The Patriots fooled the Jaguars defense again and again — Take the final backbreaker by the Patriots, when Dion Lewis ran 18 yards on third-and-9 to clinch the victory. There's no way a team in what appears to be a running situation should pick up that first down in a do-or-die scenario for the Jaguars.
The mere presence of Brady, and the team's reputation for fearless playcalling, had the Jaguars thinking pass. And the Patriots fooled the Jags' fast defense several other times in the game, with flea-flickers and clever play calling. This is what the Patriots have been doing throughout Brady's career, under Bill Belichick's leadership. The Pats simply have too many weapons, and too many plays, to stop for an entire game. Jacksonville did it for three quarters Sunday, but that wasn't enough.
2. The Jaguars couldn't run the ball — Leonard Fournette was a beast in the regular season, racking up more than 1,300 total yards and 10 touchdowns. But the Patriots knew what was coming in the AFC championship. Fournette finished with 24 carries for 76 yards, which doesn't look terrible on the surface. But throw out his longest run, a 14-yarder, and he finished with 23 rushes for 62 yards, less than 2.7 yards per carry. Even when Jags quarterback Blake Bortles came out on fire, completing 13 of 15 pass attempts for 155 yards in the first half, it didn't open up running lanes for Fournette. When the Pats later shut down Fournette, it put Bortles in some uncomfortable third-and-long situations.
3. The Jaguars were playing the Patriots — no shame in losing to a team that has been winning these games for years — Coaches on both sides will break this game down play by play and find little mistakes the Jaguars made that cost them the game. But really, the Jaguars have nothing to be ashamed about. There were no boneheaded plays and no critical turnovers (the Jags did not have a single turnover, in fact). Bortles played the game of his career, but got outdueled by arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. The defense evoked images of those great Seahawks defense of a few years ago, with great team speed and people eager to put a big hit on a receiver.
Jacksonville played well enough to win, but the Patriots were just better in the end… because that is what they've been doing for years.
Still, this will be a tough one for the Jaguars to get past in the offseason. Jacksonville has now lost all three AFC championships in which it has played, previously losing to the Patriots in 1996 and Titans in 1999. Yet with that aggressive D, a much-improved Bortles and Fournette, they could be back in the title game next season.