THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Nothing about this one came easy

Email|Print| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 13, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - That was work.

The Jaguars had talked and talked, and once they got here they walked the walk. Big, tough, mean, and fearless, they played a game that would have beaten anyone else - well, maybe not the Colts - and they no doubt left here with a feeling of enormous frustration. But you'd like to think they also left here with appropriate respect for their opponents.

After all, they were playing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

The Jaguars punched the Patriots in the mouth - hard. But the Patriots are not a finesse team. They are a skilled team, sure, but they are not a finesse team. They are a skilled team that hits back. And though it often felt as if the Patriots had no visible means of getting the Jaguars off the field, the fact is New England was the more unstoppable team. The final score was 31-20, and it is now 17 down and two to go.

You'll be reading and hearing elsewhere, I am sure, about how the Jacksonville Jaguars "exposed" the New England Patriots' defense. The Jacksonville touchdowns came on drives of 80 yards in nine plays and 95 yards in 11 plays. Quarterback David Garrard was poised and efficient, completing 22 of 33 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. And included among those 22 completions were some beauties, including a falling-down touchdown toss to Matt Jones.

Of course, the big Jacksonville problem was that the Jaguars had no answer for the transcendingly magnificent Brady, who added to the growing legend with another you-gotta-be-kidding me performance on the biggest of stages. Perfectly happy to, as they say, take what was given to him, the NFL's MVP completed 26 of 28 passes (one of the incompletions being an inexplicable drop by the great Wes Welker), good for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He threw no interceptions (I know, I know, I should tell you something you didn't know).

It was a strange game, all right. The combination of completed passes and lots of rushing attempts enabled this baby to be brought in in well under three hours. It was eerie. If this were the Yankees and Red Sox, we would have been lucky to be in the seventh inning.

The Patriots are getting used to teams bringing their A or A-plus games, but no one has looked scarier against them than the Jaguars, who took the opening kickoff and basically mauled their way down the field for an 80-yard drive that made them the first team to score on an opening drive of a playoff game against the Patriots since a 1998 Jacksonville first-quarter field goal, 14 games ago. But just in case the Jaguars thought the Patriots' offense was a myth, Brady showed them otherwise, directing New England to an answering score with a 74-yard drive, capped by a 3-yard pass to Benjamin Watson, who made a great adjustment to a great Brady pass in the back of the end zone. And when Ty Warren strip-sacked Garrard (Mike Vrabel recovering) on the next Jacksonville possession, Brady made them pay, taking the Patriots the needed 29 yards in seven plays, the last one a 1-yard TD run by Laurence Maroney, who just happened to be the best back on the field with 22 carries for 122 yards.

But it was 14-14 at the half, and the way it arrived at that point was telling. Forget those aerial circuses of September and October. The Jaguars weren't allowing that. Probably at no point this season have the Patriots looked more like a "normal" team, mixing the run with the short and medium pass. (Brady took one big shot all night, a fourth-quarter, 53-yard completion to Donte' Stallworth.) You got the strong sense as Brady was taking the team down the field with the clock ticking away just before the half that he was every bit as concerned about making sure the Jaguars would not be able to get their hands on the football as he was with getting the Patriots into the end zone in the first place.

He never got there, however, because a chop block by Stephen Neal killed the touchdown chance and Stephen Gostkowski missed a 35-yard field goal. Hence, the halftime deadlock.

There is, of course, nowhere the Patriots haven't been and no situation they cannot handle. As good as Garrard was, Brady was better. As well as the Jaguars played, the Patriots played better. There were two turnovers in the game, and they both belonged to the Jaguars. The Patriots never came remotely close to turning it over. In the end, the pattern of this game was no different than the pattern of any other close game the Patriots have played in the last two months. The Patriots wait and wait and wait on defense, and eventually the other quarterback cracks. It took Garrard 55 minutes before he made a boo-boo, but he made it, throwing a ball intended for Jones that wound up in the arms of Rodney Harrison, who, moments before, had produced one of his Rodney Being Rodney personal fouls. There, in the space of seconds, was the entire Rodney Harrison spectrum.

The Jaguars are still waiting for Brady to make a similar mistake. But so, too, are the Eagles, Ravens, Steelers, Jets, Dolphins, and Giants.

The Jaguars can rationalize a lot of things. They can talk about moving the ball on the Patriots. They can talk about neutralizing Randy Moss (one catch for 14 yards). They can talk about standing up to the mighty undefeated team some are calling the Greatest of All Time.

But they can't talk about a W.

"We're 17-0," said Brady. "That's great. But it really comes down to this week."

Colts, Chargers, it doesn't matter. They'll be ready. He'll be ready. Don't you worry about that.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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