Report card: Patriots-Jaguars
After the game, Bill Belichick noted that the Jaguars came out with a different look offensively than what the Patriots were expecting. They adjusted, and that worked to stem the bleeding of the first quarter. But it would be a stretch to say that the Patriots were able to snuff out the Jaguars on a consistent-enough basis through the final three quarters, as evidenced by the game coming down to the final play. That's a mark against coaching, and what keeps this grade from being any higher.
Tom Brady was fired up on the Patriots bench, and with good reason. Given the opponent, this unit underperformed mightily. Brady, like his hiccup game three weeks ago in Miami, is partly to blame, not taking care of the ball well enough with two interceptions. But tight end Aaron Hernandez had a quiet game, hauling in his just one of his five targets. Wes Welker carried the offense, as he often does when nothing else is going right. Another problem: pass protection, which allowed Brady to be sacked three times and hit in numerous other cases, especially late in the game.
A good bounce-back game for Stevan Ridley, who got the bulk of the work (18 of 27 total carries) and performed well, powering his way for a 4.7 yards-per-carry average. Yet the Patriots offense performs at its best when success is shared among multiple players, and Brandon Bolden's three yards on five carries stand out as a negative. The offensive line has to share blame, but Bolden failing to punch it into the end zone on back-to-back plays at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth bring out the red pen for this unit.
It's worth cutting the Patriots some slack in this category, given injuries to their top two cornerbacks (Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib) and an in-game injury to Marquice Cole. But when Belichick said earlier this week that Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne has "had some of his best games against us," he wasn't kidding, and that's not a good thing. Throwing for 348 yards, Henne's dismal passer rating of 59.9 would have been better if not for his three interceptions, two of which came late, when his offensive line finally broke down against the Patriots' pass rush.
The Jaguars came into this game with little to show from their running game, with Maurice Jones-Drew still sidelined (and still leading his team in rushing yards, despite not playing since Oct. 21). The Patriots didn't allow the Jaguars' running attack to look a whole lot better than it is, which is a positive. Factoring out two Henne scrambles for 22 yards, the Patriots held the Jaguars to a 3.3-yard average (71 yards on 21 handoffs).
This unit tightened up penalty troubles that handcuffed the Patriots' comeback attempt last week against the 49ers. Other than a 32-yard return by the Jaguars late in the first quarter, it was a ho-hum day from the coverage units. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit a 49-yard field goal that proved important in the closer-than-expected game.