|Posted on January 21, 2018 at 6:05 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
The conversation about "Thumbgate" was over and it was time to play football.
To see what the Jacksonville Jaguars would bring to Gillette Stadium, and how the New England Patriots would defend their home turf.
Quarterback Tom Brady looked impressive to begin, completing to wide receiver Danny Amedola for a 20-yard play on 4th-&-2 from the Jaguars' 30-yard line to keep the team's opening drive alive. He was 6-for-6 in pass attempts on the drive.
But New England struggled to get any closer than Jacksonville's 12-yard line, and with a sack by Jacksonville defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr., on third down, the Jaguars only gave up three points instead of seven on the Patriots' opening drive. New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski connected from 31 yards away to take the early 3-0 lead with 9:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Jacksonville achieved two first downs on their opening drive before New England helped to cancel out back-to-back reception attempts with positive pass defense. This forced the Jaguars to punt away their opening drive, giving the ball back to the Patriots with 5:01 left in the opening quarter.
But Jacksonville would force New England to punt on their second offensive drive of the game, taking possession back with 2:51 left in the first quarter, on their own 24-yard line.
The Jaguars matched and surpassed their first-down total (2) from their first drive on their following drive, gaining four first downs.
They had already moved from their own 24-yard line to the 28-yard line of the Patriots by the end of the first quarter, beginning the second quarter with a 1st-&-10 situation, shortly outside of the Patriots' redzone.
On the very first play of the second quarter, Jacksonville continued their drive by sending running back Corey Grant out of the backfield. He caught a short pass from Bortles and sped off for a 20-yard gain to New England's four-yard line. It was Grant's second catch-and-run for 20 yards on the drive.
The Jaguars followed with a four-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to tight end Marcedes Lewis, open in the end zone, to give the Jaguars their first lead of the game, 7-3, with 14:15 to play before half.
Jacksonville would not allow a first down on New England's next drive, and Brady would have his first incompletion of the game when he overshot running back Dion Lewis. Defensive end Calais Campbell would get to Lewis for a one-yard loss on a rush attempt shortly after.
With the Patriots punting on back-to-back drives, the Jaguars held a 7-3 lead and the ball with 13:13 before the break.
After moving backward five yards on a false-start penalty, Bortles orchestrated back-to-back first downs with a short pass to Grant on 1st-&-15 that he took 15 yards for the new set of downs, followed by Bortles finding wide receiver Allen Hurns in the open field for a 27-yard gain to New England's 40-yard line.
Bortles would then look to running back Leonard Fournette, needing two yards. When Fournette was stopped for no gain, Jaguars' offensive coordinator Nate Hackett went right back to him, and Fournette rushed for the first down on 3rd-&-2.
Hackett and Bortles would display their trust for yet another running back, T.J. Yeldon, to follow. When Yeldon was stopped for a three-yard loss after his reception, the next play was a pass to Yeldon. This time, he took the ball 12 yards to the New England six-yard line for a first down.
Fournette would rush on the next play for two yards, and then complete the drive by barreling in from four yards out, assisted by his offensive line, on the following play for the team's second touchdown of the game, providing them a 14-3 lead with 7:06 remaining before halftime.
Despite a big-time reception by tight end Rob Gronkowski, Jacksonville would force New England to punt for the third straight time, following Fowler, Jr.'s, second sack of the game, a hard hit on Brady on third down, after multiple players disrupted Brady.
Running the ball twice to open their fourth drive of the game, the Jaguars then decided to air it out, and Bortles found wide receiver Keelan Cole for a first down on a 26-yard gain, where Cole reeled in the ball, put one foot down and seemingly dragged his second foot. Jacksonville would quickly run the next play, taking a penalty even, to prevent a challenge flag from coming in from New England.
But the Jaguars would take themselves out of a scoring opportunity when they accumulated consecutive penalties, the first taking back a Lewis reception that would have gone for a first down. What could have been another scoring drive for Jacksonville turned into their second punt of the game.
The Jaguars followed back-to-back offensive penalties with back-to-back defensive penalties shortly after, allowing the Patriots down the field and well into their redzone, where running back James White carried the ball in from a yard out to bring the score to 14-10 Jaguars with 55 seconds before half.
Jacksonville's back-to-back defensive penalties were a personal foul on strong safety Barry Church who let with his shoulder and placed a big hit on Gronkowski, forcing him to drop the ball and then pass interference on cornerback A.J. Bouye who was blanketing his receiver and not looking at the ball. Gronkowski would head to the locker room after the hit.
The Patriots came out of the locker rooms in the second half with Gronkowski questionable to return with a head injury. He was ruled out at the start of the fourth quarter, not returning for a single play in the second half.
Taking four minutes and 37 seconds off of the clock to begin the third quarter, Jacksonville came away with points on kicker Josh Lambo's first field-goal attempt of the game, a 54-yarder that elevated Jacksonville to a 17-10 lead.
Their defense would force a punt by the Patriots on the Patriots' first drive of the second half, taking the ball back with 7:31 to go in the third quarter.
But the Jaguars would punt the ball right back after Bortles took a sack. Bortles was not sacked a single time in the AFC Divisional Round match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
From their own 46, New England would switch fields and get to only the Jacksonville 46, punting away on a three-and-out for their second straight punt to begin the second half.
On 3rd-&-3 on the next Jaguars' drive, wide receiver Marqise Lee would catch a pass from Bortles thrown behind him and move forward for an 18-yard gain and a first down. Then, Bortles threw across his body to Hurns for a 15-yard play for another first down on a play that began with a flea flicker and then Bortles having to run out of harm's way. Lee would attain the team's third first down of the drive off of another reception and Fournette would grab the fourth on a quick pitch that he took over the first-down marker.
At the end of the third quarter, Jacksonville had the ball on the New England 25-yard line on 3rd-&-8.
They would open the fourth quarter with a 43-yard field goal by Lambo within the first eight seconds, giving the Jaguars a 20-10 advantage.
Then the defense would make a massive play, taking the ball away from the Patriots after a huge gain by Lewis. As Lewis came down, the ball started to come out and somehow linebacker Myles Jack had the ball when both he and Lewis fell to the ground. The play was reviewed and the call stood, with the Jaguars taking over at their own 33-yard line.
Despite the offense failing to score, Jacksonville's defense prevented a potential scoring drive for New England and were able to take some time off of the clock.
But Brady was not done, going 5-for-7 on his pass attempts on the next drive, completing pass plays that went 18, 21, and 31 yards and then ending with back-to-back completions to Amendola, the latter being a nine-yard scoring play that brought the game to 20-17, with the Jaguars still in the lead, with 8:44 to play.
Forcing Jacksonville to punt with 6:30 to go, New England began a drive from their own 19.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey would be called for pass interference on that Patriots' drive, giving up 36 yards to the Patriots, but the Jaguars would force the drive to end in a punt, starting their drive from their own 10-yard line with 6:01 to go in the game.
Jacksonville lost a yard on their possession and punted the ball right back to Amendola, who returned the ball 20 yards to the Jacksonville 30-yard line with 4:58 remaining,
Brady and Amendola would connect once again for their second consecutive scoring play when Brady went to Amendola in the back of the end zone, giving the Patriots a 24-20 advantage, their first lead since 3-0.
With 2:48 to go and all three of their timeouts, the Jaguars took over.
A fumble by Bortles would be recovered by left tackle Cam Robinson after a nine-yard loss, leaving Jacksonville with a 3rd-&-19 situation from the New England 47-yard line. They would go for it on 4th-&-14 and cornerback Stephon Gilmore would block the ball from wide receiver Dede Westbrook, marking a turnover on downs for Jacksonville.
Lewis would rush the ball around the edge for a first down that silenced the Jaguars push for the win.
The Patriots head back to the Super Bowl, and the Jaguars head back to Jacksonville much better than they were, but with more work to do.