The win sets up the Patriots for a divisional matchup on the road against either the Indianapolis Colts or the Denver Broncos. If the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday's Wild Card game, the Patriots will play the top-seeded Colts next. In either case the Patriots will play a team that beat them earlier this year. The Broncos prevailed, 28-20, in an Oct. 16 game in Denver; the Colts throttled the Patriots, 40-21, on Nov. 7 in Foxboro.
"We will enjoy this one for a while," said Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. But the business of preparing in earnest for the divisional opponent will begin as soon as the outcome of Sunday's 4 p.m. game becomes apparent. "Whoever we play, they beat us pretty handily this year," said Belichick. "Whichever team it ends up being, we have our work cut out for us."
The Patriots may soon forget Saturday's win, but their fans won't, as the contest featured some noteworthy milestones. The team set an NFL record with its 10th straight playoff win, surpassing a record set by the Green Bay Packers between 1961 and 1967. Veteran linebacker Willie McGinest set two NFL records by making four-and-half sacks. He now holds the record for most sacks in a single postseason game as well as the record for most career playoff sacks. He passed Reggie White and Bruce Smith to set a new record with 16 career playoff sacks.
"He was the heavyweight champion tonight," said fellow linebacker Monty Beisel of McGinest. "Absolutely incredible."
Patriots WR David Givens will join McGinest in the postseason record books if he catches a touchdown pass next week. When he hauled in 3-yard pass from QB Tom Brady in the third quarter, it was Givens' sixth consecutive playoff game with a touchdown reception. Former Steeler John Stallworth is the only player with touchdown catches in seven straight playoff games.
After the game, the Patriots players were already focused on the next step. "We've got to play better,' McGinest said "There's no room for mistakes. I just know that of the teams that are left, everybody is really good."
Brady, who completed 15 of 27 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, said the win is just a first step. "That's all it is. I mean we are just even with everybody else, so we are even with the best teams in the league, Indy and Denver."
Saturday's game was a nail biter in the first half, as the Patriots took a 7-3 lead into halftime. The teams shut each other down for the most part. Jacksonville gained 115 yards of offense before halftime, nearly matching New England's 125 yards. Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich looked sharp, completing 11 of 15 first-half passes for 101 yards.
New England forged a 7-0 lead with 12:14 remaining in the second quarter on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brady to WR Troy Brown. The score was set up by a 27-yard punt return by Tim Dwight, who showcased his great initial burst as he took off up the left sideline. It was Brown's only catch of the night, but he was very busy on defense, as he revisited his role as nickel back and made four tackles.
The drive also featured a nifty 18-yard run by RB Kevin Faulk, who started in place of Corey Dillon. Faulk played a strong game, gaining a team-leading 51 yards on six carries and catching four passes for 45 yards. Dillon entered the game in the third series and wound up with 17 carries for 40 yards.
Jacksonville's lone score nearly wasn't, as Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal in the second quarter came within inches of the right upright.
After halftime, the Patriots put the game out of reach with three quick touchdowns that resulted from some spectacular plays. The first culminated a 12-play, 81-yard drive with a few nice highlights, including a 16-yard Brady pass to Deion Branch and an alert fumble recovery by Andre Davis after tight end Ben Watson lost the ball. The touchdown came on Brady's three-yard strike to Givens.
The next score came on one of the most memorable plays of the season. As the Jaguars were blitzing on a third-and-13, Brady hit Watson in the right flat for what looked like a routine short gainer. But Watson dodged LB Mike Peterson and S Deon Grant near the New England 45-yard line and headed upfield. S Gerald Sensabaugh had a clean shot and nearly took Watson out of bounds, but the big tight end stayed on his feet and outraced four Jaguars enroute to the end zone. The 63-yard play was the longest postseason passing play in Patriots history.
"It was a huge, great effort by Benjamin to break those tackles and make a big play out of what really should have been probably a third-down stop," said Belichick.
After the game, Watson was more concerned about his earlier fumble. "Andre Davis saved me. That was a big mistake that I made, and I was just happy that he was there."
Seven plays later, New England cornerback Asante Samuel put the game away by intercepting a Leftwich pass at the New England 33 and taking it to the house, to make the score 28-3. "I read the route, read the quarterback's eyes and just took it," said Samuel.
"That was a great call by Eric (Mangini)," said Belichick.
The Patriots won without LB Tedy Bruschi, who dressed but did not play as he tries to recover from a calf injury.
One of the keys to the victory was their play on third down on both sides of the ball. The Patriots converted seven of their 14 third-down tries while holding the Jaguars to one-of-12. "We did a great job on third-and-long," said Beisel.
Now it's on to the next round and either the Colts or the Broncos. ""It doesn't matter where you play," said cornerback Ellis Hobbs. "It's intense right now. They're gonna do what they're gonna do, and we're gonna do what we're gonna do, and we'll see what happens."