Playoff prognostications (cont.)
Posted: Monday January 7, 2008 12:55PM; Updated: Monday January 7, 2008 1:14PM
JAGUARS AT PATRIOTS
WHAT I SAW: First of all, the Jags faced a Steeler team that came out throwing (seven pass plays out of the first eight called). See that, always expect the unexpected. So Pittsburgh went the length of the field for an early score, and the Jaguars took the news calmly and settled down and Pittsburgh didn't come back to life until quarter No. 3 when David Garrard's pick gave them a short field and three points.
The Jags had the game in hand and were riding high, and then all hell broke loose. Garrard and the offense shut down. The Steelers were running too many plays. Jacksonville's defense, which doesn't rotate many players along the line, started tiring. It put together a terrific goal-line stand. The officials managed to rob them of that bit of heroism.
Sociologists and other deep thinkers might come to the conclusion that there are some members of the NFL who seem to lead a charmed life. Hines Ward is one of them. He's a magnificent competitor, a future Hall of Famer, to be sure. He also gets away with murder. On fourth and goal he grabbed Brian Williams' facemask and actually got an interference call in his favor. Wow! Talk about a stacked deck. Then on Najeh Davenport's supposed touchdown, the head linesman overruled the umpire, who had ruled that he had been stopped. His knee certainly looked down.
So Jack Del Rio and Garrard and the rest of the gang, having fallen behind by a point (and it was only Mike Tomlin's obsession with two-pointers that didn't have the Steelers up by three), must have looked into the tea leaves and seen that somehow they had angered the goddess, Fate, and they'd better do something quickly to make her happy. The quarterback draw on fourth and two did it.
Now I hold the Steeler defensive brain trust responsible for this. The Jags had a third-and-two on their second drive of the third quarter. They went multiple wideout, Garrard dialed up the QB draw and ran for 12 yards. When they went with the same look at the end, the Steelers immediately should have hit the button that said Security.
WHAT LIES AHEAD: I never could figure out how long it takes to recover from the kind of physical battle in which the Jags were involved. I mean, they were on the field for 74 snaps. Well, they're not that old. The Patriots, on the other hand, are battling Father Time, and their defense has looked tired down the stretch. Five defensive starters are 30 or older. There are things you don't forget ... the way the Ravens pounded them, the guys who couldn't tackle the Giants' Brandon Jacobs when he ran over them for a TD.
So they'll give up points, not a lot of them because I don't think that either Garrard or a running game will be able to score as much as they'll need, but enough to make it interesting, for a while. But can Tom Brady and his cast of thousands be stopped? I don't think so.
Last year Brady, throwing timed, underneath passes, led the Patriots on three long TD drives against the Jags, and this was a game Jacksonville needed for a playoff shot. It was played in Jacksonville, and New England won 24-21, with Brady hitting 11 receivers, most of whom he said goodbye to shortly thereafter, some of whom never were heard from again. Rookie tight end Dave Thomas was Brady's leading target that day. "I've got a new go-to receiver," he said afterward. Go-to, as in, he'll go, too, which he did.
Now he's got the multiple letter winners to throw to --plus the game's in Foxborough.
New England 34, Jacksonville 24