The Jaguars present a challenge—some might even say a challenge comparable to what they faced from the Texans and 49ers. Others, however, might believe this remark could only come from some intoxicated fan stumbling out of EverBank Field and not from a sober writer attempting to make some half-way decent points.
After all, how can this be so? The Jaguars…a challenge?
For starters, Jacksonville’s offense and defense do rank near the bottom of the league. Their quarterback, Chad Henne, leaves an incredible amount to be desired for and their star running back, Maurice-Jones Drew, is coming back from an injury and has rushed for only 400 yards. Finally, they own the second worst pass rush in the NFL (1 sack every 34.3 drop backs, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information). And, let me tell you, that was only the horrible appetizer.
However, both the Jaguars and the Dolphins still stand in the Patriot’s way to obtain either a possible second-round seed or at least the 3rd seed, if they want it (that’s right I’m talking about you Matt Cassel and that 2-point conversion you once sailed into Gillette Stadium's stands). This game will provide a true mental test for a Patriots team hoping to maintain a competitive edge after being thrust into the national spotlight for the past two weeks.
Many likely view this game as a glorified practice. Yet, doing so would be a mistake and here is why: In week 2, the underdog Arizona Cardinals defeated the Patriots at Gillette Stadium 20-18. As close as the score was, the Cardinals manhandled the home team. Further, Chad Henne, a quarterback who owns a paltry 48.7 completion percentage in December, as well as a 56.3 overall quarterback rating, put the Houston Texans on their heels in a week 11 match up. Houston escaped narrowly, but not after Henne tossed 4 touchdowns and 354 yards. The Jaguars also played the Packers competitively at Greenbay this season, but lost 24-15.
So how and what do the Patriots prepare for in a game like this?
The Patriots can key on a few players that could swing the balance of the game in the Jaguar's favor.
On offense, the obvious candidate would be running back Maurice-Jones Drew, as noted above. Other players include second year receiver Cecil Shorts who has 9 receptions of at least 30 yards this season (ESPN Stats & Information), as well as 49 receptions on 95 targets, 925 yards and 7 touchdowns. 2012 first round pick Justin Blackmon and tight end Marcedes Lewis further bring an ounce of stability to an otherwise lack-luster passing attack.
On defense, look no further than linebacker Paul Posluszny, a six year veteran some experts predicted the Patriots would draft in 2007. The former Buffalo Bills linebacker has spearheaded an otherwise uninspiring defense, amassing 122 total tackles and 5 turnovers this season. Fellow linebacker Russell Allen tends to gravitate toward the ball and is second to Posluszny with 115 total tackles. Cornerback Derek Cox, Jacksonville’s third round pick in 2009, has steadily improved and is tied on the team with Posluszny with three interceptions.
This article may be stretching the Jaguars potential a bit. In fact, I admit that it is. The Patriots should spot 30 + points against these guys. Yet, I would defer from believing that the Jaguars lack any chance. They would love to take down the class of the AFC and end their season on a positive note.
In 2004, when the Dolphins beat the Patriots 29-28, they called it “their Superbowl.” Because the Jaguars likely feel the same way, the Patriots must be ready.