Wednesday, December 19, 2012 Updated: December 20, 1:59 PM ET
Jags will test Pats' professionalism
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- By the 16th week of the NFL season, there aren't many more surprises. Teams are what they are. There has been a large enough sample size to draw more decisive conclusions.
This is what we know about the New England Patriots: They are one of the league's best teams. If an opponent is going to beat them, it's going to take a knockout punch because they will scrap until the 60th minute. The Tom Brady-led offense is lethal. The defense is growing but still vulnerable at times. Turnovers are a major part of their identity.
There aren't many more boxes for the Patriots to check, but this week presents an opportunity to prove something else on a journey they hope ends with another Super Bowl championship.
Bill Belichick was feeling good Wednesday, but rest assured he won't be smiling Sunday if the Pats don't take care of business in Jacksonville.
Can they fight human nature after two ultra-hyped games against the division-leading Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers and maintain the same level of focus in preparations for Sunday's road game against the 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars?
In other words, this is a test of the professionalism of several players in the locker room. It is easy to get locked in when games are on national television and the level of competition is closer to the top of the NFL than the bottom.
Former Patriots coach Bill Parcells once said the often-repeated phrase "you are what your record says you are," but this week, Patriots players aren't adopting that line of thinking. They're fighting it, actually.
"Our big task is to not look at their record, but to see what they've put out on film and the teams they've played and competed with each and every week," said third-year tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
So it's no surprise that head coach Bill Belichick has highlighted some of the few Jaguars highlights this season, such as how they took the host Texans to overtime in a 43-37 loss on Nov. 18, or how they traveled to Green Bay and played the Packers tough in a 24-15 defeat on Oct. 28.
If Belichick was looking for other reasons that players should maintain their edge, he could dig up some old tape from Dec. 20, 2004, when the 12-1 Patriots visited the 2-11 Miami Dolphins. The final score that day: Dolphins 29, Patriots 28.
Belichick had sounded alarms in the days leading up to that game, just as he is this week.
"We're grinding through here on Jacksonville. I think this is a team that has really played very competitively over the last few weeks," he said Wednesday, before listing 16 different players (without the use of notes) on the Jaguars' roster and the challenge they present. "Offensively, they have real good firepower. Defensively, they're very big and physical inside. They play hard [and] I think they're well coached.
"They've done a great job the last few weeks of not turning the ball over, playing error-free," Belichick continued. "That's something that obviously we have to do a better job of based on last week (four turnovers versus the 49ers). I know it starts with that. They're a very good, competitive football team that works hard, makes you earn what you get. We're going to have to do a good job down there to come up with anything."
The Jaguars rank 31st in the NFL in averaging 15.6 points per game, and also rank 29th defensively in surrendering an average of 27.3 points per game, so it's a game the Patriots should win.
Also, Brady, who rested his arm Wednesday and didn't practice after throwing a career-high 65 passes in Sunday's loss to the 49ers, has had some of his greatest success against the Jaguars; he's 5-0 against them, having completed 74 percent of his passes, with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.
On Wednesday, Brady talked about the importance of progressing over the course of the season and "realizing what you do well and what you don't do well. The final score, I don't think really does the trick. I think it's more of your ability to continue to accelerate through the course of a season and not level off or regress. We played some good teams over the course of the season. That will continue this week and then we'll see where we are."
That's a big part of the challenge for the Patriots this week, treating the 2-12 Jaguars the same way they did the Texans and 49ers before them. It's a professional test.
So with all due respect, Bill Parcells, the Patriots aren't buying into your catchy, often-quoted, bottom-line approach.
You are what your record says you are? Not this week when it comes to the Jacksonville Jaguars.