If you're one of New England's remaining postseason opponents -- and you know who you are -- here's the really scary part about Saturday night's outcome at Gillette Stadium: The wild-card Jacksonville Jaguars came pretty darn close to playing the game that it's going to take to finally beat these perfect-season Patriots. And it still wasn't nearly enough.
Blueprint? Blueprint this.
Going into New England's 31-20 AFC divisional-round defeat of Jacksonville, the Jaguars knew they had to keep New England's bevy of playmakers in front of them, making the Patriots dink and dunk their way down the field rather than striking for the game-turning big play.
They did that. Home-run threat
The Jaguars knew they had to limit the number of New England's possessions, controlling the clock and making their offense their best defense against the high-scoring Patriots.
They did that. New England had just three meaningful drives in the first half, and four more in the second half, with Jacksonville piling up 350 yards of total offense, 22 first downs and 27:40 of possession time.
And the Jaguars knew they had to keep the game close well into the fourth quarter, staying within one possession of tying the score or taking the lead against a record-breaking Patriots team that played from ahead most of this season.
They did that, too. The Patriots led only 28-20 with under seven minutes remaining, before a 35-yard
It wasn't the perfect game, but Jacksonville proved it had the right idea of how to beat the Patriots. It's just that when push came to shove, it couldn't actually beat the Patriots. And how can you, really, when Brady barely lets the ball hit the ground, going 26 of 28 to set an NFL one-game record for completion percentage (92.9)? And when Patriots punter
Doing whatever it took to extend their perfect season to a glitzy 17-0, it was the ever-spectacular Brady and the Patriots who might have played something approaching the perfect game. New England was patient on offense when it had to be, taking what the Jaguars gave it underneath. And the Patriots made just enough plays on defense to blunt the Jaguars upset bid, intercepting Jacksonville quarterback
That was enough to put New England into next week's AFC Championship Game at Gillette, and drop its magic number to two -- as in the two victories that stand between the Patriots and the first 19-0 season in NFL history.
"I feel like the energy, the effort, the plan that we put together was good and sound,'' Jaguars head coach
Join the club, Jack. No matter the situation, these Patriots never panic, and it's because they have a truly special quarterback in Brady. The Jaguars' Garrard came out firing the ball all over the field and served notice that Jacksonville would no go easily on this night. But Brady was at his playoff best all game, and when the Jaguars defense took away Moss, he merely looked elsewhere, completing passes to eight different New England receivers.
Brady hit his first 16 passes against Jacksonville, not missing until tight end
Brady was the clear-cut difference in this game, and his ultra-efficient 262-yard, three-touchdown passing produced a rating of 141.4, and inspired awe in both locker rooms.
"It was awesome,'' Patriots linebacker
"On his game" really doesn't capture Brady's brilliance against the Jaguars. He didn't make a poor throw all night, and if the Patriots go on to record their perfect season, Brady's near-perfect game against Jacksonville might wind up being its signature moment.
"Brady was very, very good today,'' Del Rio said. "I mean, he's been great all year, but tonight he was patient. We made him be patient. We didn't give him a lot of things over the top. But he was very patient, willing to take the short stuff and nibble a little bit.''
Nibbling never looked so good. With Jaguars cornerback
"I looked up at the scoreboard one time and he was 16 of 16,'' said Garrard, who finished a strong 22 of 33 for 278 yards, with two touchdowns and that one interception to Patriots safety
Every team that has faced Brady and the Patriots this season has walked away saying a version of the same thing. And now, if the Colts take care of business on Sunday at home against the Chargers, the game that almost everyone wants to see is nearly at hand: Indianapolis at New England, in a rematch of last year's AFC title game.
If it comes to pass, rest assured there will be plenty of talk about how the defending Super Bowl champion Colts are the team that can beat the Patriots and put an end to their perfect season. But knowing what it takes to beat the Patriots and doing it are two entirely different things. Like a few other teams this season, the Jaguars had a pretty good game plan against New England.
But the Patriots on this night had that beat. They had Brady. Through 17 games this season in New England, that's been the blueprint to perfection.