Saturday, January 12, 2008

Patriots 31, Jaguars 20

Quick thoughts:

*See how long it goes, but the Pats' are starting to resemble the 98-99 Yankees, in that they're starting to win close games the same way. Those Yanks had strong enough starting pitching to keep them in most games, timely hitting from the fifth inning on, and a suffocating bullpen anchored by Rivera. The Pats have Brady, who keeps the them close enough even when the opposition is scoring early; a smart and opportunistic (if aging) defense that forces the other team to grind everything out; and a knack on both sides of the ball for that one killer, fourth-quarter play. Brady to Watson (the seocnd time) was one dagger; Harrison's interception was, on defense, like the knock-out blow you keep expecting that finally comes. New England's D came within a few inches intercepting Garrard earlier; when Harrison hauled one in, it had the smack of the inevitable.

*Much was made, before and during the game, of the Jaguars' "ball control," their so-called ability to keep the Pats' offense off the field and mile the clock. Be careful of your strategy! The Jags did keep Brady on the sidelines (for awhile, it seemed as though the Pats would be the very first team in NFL history to lose without either turning the ball over or punting once--think about it), but in the end this was more a matter of necessity than strategy. It was clear early on that the Pats' would allow the Jags all sorts of underneath stuff, even on third down, in order to prevent anything deep. (It is telling that Garrard's one long completion came on fourth down, and on a broken play, when a Jags receiver seemed to appear trailing a puff of smoke behind him.) Once the Patriots went ahead by 11, the Jags' grind-it-out strategy was not only obsolete, it was counterproductive. No one, with the possible exception of Bill Parcells, understands the nuances of the clock as well as Bill Belichick, and when the fourth quarter went below ten minutes Belickick must have realized the game was all but over. It is one thing to milk the clock when you want to; yet another when you have no other choice. With Brady near-flawless, could the Jags drive the length of the field twice? Unlikely--and with the Pats (as they were against Eli last week) suddenly comfortable blitzing, impossible.

*That said, this Jags team is a comer. Consider the poor Houston Texans. As of 4 pm ET last Sunday, five teams remained in the playoffs. Three were from the AFC South: Indy, Jacksonville, Tennessee. Furthermore, injuries aside, the Texans will now have two games apiece, every season, vs. Peyton Manning, Vince Young, and David Garrard. What will count as in-division success? 3-3? 2-4?

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