Welcome to the 15th installment of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday at noonish. The 10-4 Patriots, coming off a wild 41-31 loss to the Niners Monday night, get a moment to exhale when they take on
Mark Brunell Rob Johnson Jonathan Quinn Byron Leftwich David Garrard Quinn Gray Blaine Gabbert and the wretched 2-12 future-home-of-Tim Tebow Jacksonville Jaguars. Let's get to the details.
THREE PLAYERS I'LL BE WATCHING OTHER THAN TOM BRADY
Cecil Shorts III: The Jaguars are 31st in the league in total offense, 31st in total defense, 31st in points scored, and 29th in points allowed. Their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, the league's top rusher last year, has not played since Week 7 because of a foot injury and did not practice Thursday. Chad Henne is their quarterback, and while he's comparably competent to Blaine Gabbert and has had his moments against the Patriots, he's Chad Henne, for pete's sake. As you may have surmised by their .142 winning percentage, there's not a lot worth watching on the Jaguars unless rubbernecking at ineptitude is your thing. So by semi-default, I'll be keeping an eye on Shorts, the second-year deep-threat out of Mount Union with the cool name and increasingly impressive statistics (49 catches, 925 yards, 7 touchdowns).
Stevan Ridley: Ridley has four fumbles, two lost, in 252 carries this season. Old friend BenJarvus Green-Ellis, renowned for never coughing up the ball during his time with the Patriots, has three this season, two lost, in 263 carries for the Bengals. I'm not dismissing Ridley's recent troubles in holding on to the football -- it's impossible not to have some concern that he may commit a pivotal turnover in the playoffs. But I desperately hope he doesn't get buried because of this. Ridley has been an essential contributor to the Patriots' offense this season (1,105 yards, 10 rushing touchdowns), and his ascent is one reason some of us believe this year's team is superior to last year's AFC champs. I'll always wonder if he could have made a difference in the Super Bowl last year had he not been relegated to the doghouse. Continuing to have faith in him is a risk worth taking.
Jeremy Mincey: A sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2006, he never played a down for the team, and stands as the rare discard who has gone on to success elsewhere. He has 10 sacks and six forced fumbles for the Jaguars over the past two seasons.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
Arguably the greatest player in Jaguars history and a respected Patriot for his final two seasons, Taylor ranks 15th in NFL history with 11,695 rushing yards, which I believe is 100 yards or so more than Adrian Peterson's total so far this season.
What Taylor accomplished in his 13 NFL seasons is all the more remarkable considering he missed more than a quarter of his career with injuries, having played in 153 out of a possible 208 games by my rudimentary calculations. In a weird, ironic way, maybe all of the injuries helped his longevity by keeping his legs fresh.
Despite the durability issues, Taylor truly was a special back, running with an uncommon blend of power and speed when he was at his best. The Jaguars drafted in him in the first round in 1998 -- the same year the Patriots selected Robert Edwards -- and he ended New England's season that year, running for 162 yards in Jacksonville's 25-10 victory over Scott Zolak and the Patriots in the AFC playoffs. His peak was probably five years later, when at age 27 he ran 345 times for 1,572 yards.
Always a favorite at this address, I wish he'd been able to stay healthy -- a recurring lament, sure, and it's possible he pulled his hamstring during this photoshoot -- during his two seasons here, because he still could get four yards a pop with talent and guile while showing flashes from time to time of the threat he once was.
THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN FOXBOROUGH
Good thing Ed Hochuli wasn't the ref that night. He'd still be explaining how electricity works.
(Also: Jim Gray, sideline reporter. The worst.)
(Also, Part II: It gets lost in all of the amazing moments that have happened over the past decade or so, but the 1996 Patriots' run to the Super Bowl was an absolute blast, probably the most enjoyable Patriots team of my lifetime to that point.)
PREDICTION, OR IS THIS THE WEEK CHAD HENNE PULLS AN A.J. FEELEY ON 'EM?
No. No, it is not. Sure, I suppose there are cautionary tales of a Patriots team underestimating or playing poorly late in the season against an opponent that should be easily outclassed, especially if you're willing to go back eight years. But obviously it's rare, very rare, and though even Bill Belichick struggled to come up with platitudes and plaudits for the Jags this week, focus should not be an issue after Sunday's tough loss to the Niners. Tom Brady will extend his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 47, seven shy of Drew Brees's record, before giving way to Ryan Mallett, Ridley will get through the game without putting the ball on the ground, and Henne's attempts to go deep to Shorts and Justin Blackmon won't come close to keeping pace with the Patriots' historically potent offense. No drama, no worries, and one more win closer to the games that really matter. Patriots 45, Jaguars 17.
Previous game's prediction: Patriots 31, Niners 21. Final score: Niners 41, Patriots 34. Season record: 10-4.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.