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Jacksonville elicits some tough talk

FOXBOROUGH -- Saturday was New Year's Eve. Sunday was New Year's Day.

Yesterday, according to the NFL calendar, was the Feast of Compliments, featuring St. Belichick, the patron saint of exaggeration.

Amid the slew of praise the Patriots coach heaped upon the Jacksonville Jaguars, against whom New England opens the playoffs Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, there was a clear sign that let all know the holiday was here.

Bill Belichick was talking tough. Tough on top of tough.

No fewer than 10 times in a news conference of about 12 minutes did Belichick use the word in describing some aspect of the Jaguars.

''They're well-balanced and they're tough across the board," he said. ''They've come from behind in a lot of their wins. They've played well on the road, so I think they've shown that they are a physical and a mentally tough team. They can play in any conditions against any type of competition. That's why they are 12-4."

At some point, Belichick basically said everything associated with Jacksonville except jaguar meat is tough.

Their team is tough. Their defensive line is tough. Their inside linemen are tough. Their receivers are tough. Their tight end is tough. Their head coach is tough. Their front office executives are tough.

Belichick likes the word ''tough." He used it to describe Oakland, Tennessee, and Indianapolis, the teams New England beat to start the 2001, '03, and '04 playoffs.

But Belichick has never used it as much as he did yesterday, and little wonder, considering the team has two quarterbacks who are built like inside linebackers.

Still, it is money time for Belichick, who has not lost a postseason game with the Patriots.

Unlike the years above, however, the Patriots start the playoffs without a bye, and with a short week of preparation to boot.

''We have the same amount of time that Jacksonville has to prepare for the game, so we're playing on a level field there," Belichick said. ''We just have to do a better job."

And don't dare suggest that the Patriots did not try hard to beat Miami Sunday because a victory would have meant playing Pittsburgh this weekend.

''It's pretty ridiculous," Belichick said of that notion, pointing out that only three teams -- Indianapolis, Denver, and Seattle -- have better marks than the Jaguars' 12-4 record.

''I think they do a lot of things well," Belichick said. ''They can certainly play good defense; good front four, good front seven. They cover well. Big corners. Big receivers. Big offensive line. Good running game. Big quarterbacks.

''The team has a lot of depth. They're good in all three phases of the game. They cover well in the kicking game. They're tough. They're physical. They've played well on the road. I can see why they've won 12 games. We have a lot to get ready for."

''Tough" is the word of the week; ''12" is the magic number. Belichick said Jacksonville's win total is the statistic that jumps out to him in studying the Jaguars.

Jacksonville's offense is pretty average, tied for 15th in total yards (321.8 per game), with a better rushing attack (10th) than passing game (19th). Defensively, the Jaguars rank sixth overall (290.9 yards a game), with a unit that is first in sacks per pass play, sixth in points allowed (16.8 per game), and toughens up on third down (third in the NFL).

The Patriots face the unusual challenge of playing a team they haven't met since 2003. Belichick said that game and a preseason contest last season could prove beneficial.

''We'll look at those and probably some other relevant games in the past," he said. ''But, this team is this year's team, just like we are and just like everybody else is. I think the more current games with the personnel that we most likely will be facing are the ones that you want to make sure that you take a look at. But you have to look at all of them and be ready for all of them."

Belichick might have been overly complimentary in his description of the Jaguars, but his players sound convinced that Jacksonville is a formidable foe.

''If they weren't good, we wouldn't be playing them, right?" nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. ''That's the only thing I know about them. We're facing them and they're a pretty tough football team.

''It's time for real football now. You lose now, you're staying home, and we're not ready to stay home."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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