JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Friendly reminder, to all concerned: It's only Week 2.
Regardless of the outcome of today's match between the Jags and Patriots, there's still a lot of football left to be played this season.
In the week leading up to this game, however, the Jaguars sounded like a team bent on exorcising the ghosts of their AFC Championship meltdown earlier this calendar year. There was a lot of chatter emanating from this city in northeast Florida, a lot of reliving of the recent past, and it was difficult to determine which was higher: the record-setting 97-degree temps or the Jags' emphasis on this game's importance.
Shortly after kickoff along the St. Johns River, dark clouds hovered over TIAA Bank Field, threatening a thunderstorm. The rains never came, but Jags QB Blake Bortles and his receivers provided the lightning with a pair of quick-strike touchdown passes. Each of New England's starting cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, gave one up. Jacksonville added a third TD just before halftime.
"You look at the way [Bortles] played in the AFC Championship Game, he played us well there, too," observed safety Duron Harmon. "We just kept giving them positive plays [today]. They kept moving the ball and getting in situations like 3rd-and-4, 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-3, which is easier to pick up than 3rd-and-10."
Offensively, meanwhile, results weren't much better for the Patriots, even with rookie running back Sony Michel making his pro debut. New England looked lethargic in the heat, prompting OC Josh McDaniels to give his charges a tongue-lashing the likes of which haven't been seen before from him. When the sunshine finally returned, it appeared to coincide with a galvanized Patriots O, but in the end, QB Tom Brady and Co. could only manage a field goal by intermission.
The hot, humid weather didn't help New England's cause, but the players refused to cite that as an excuse for their performance in Jacksonville.
"I don't think it was about the heat," remarked running back/co-captain James White. "We just didn't start fast and they did. We've got to find a way to improve. They didn't do anything out of the ordinary. It was more us than them. We've got to find a way to put it together."
In the third quarter, Gilmore forced a fumble, recovered by Harmon, that injected some life into the Patriots. Brady led the O on its first TD drive of the day when he found WR Chris Hogan on a 3rd-and-goal from the Jacksonville 7-yard line.
Jacksonville wanted to treat this like an AFC Championship Game rematch? Careful what you wish for. The Jaguars dominated most of that contest in Foxborough before allowing the Patriots to come back and win in the fourth quarter.
Heading into the fourth quarter this Sunday, the Jaguars held a 24-10 advantage, four points greater than the one they had in January's playoff contest. It appeared as if history was repeating itself when the Patriots trimmed the lead to 11 points and created a turnover just outside the Jaguar red zone
However, Jacksonville's vaunted D came through with a strip-sack of Brady to thwart a potential short touchdown drive, only to punt the ball back to New England a few plays later. But the game's outcome was sealed when the Jaguars challenged a referee's placement of what looked like a Patriots first-down pickup deep in their own territory.
The Jaguars won the challenge, and with 8 minutes to go, New England elected to punt down 11 points.
Bortles proceeded to throw his fourth touchdown pass, a 61-yard catch-and-run play that was more a byproduct of poor defense effort by New England.
"They got a fast start right away. They did a good job overall," tight end Rob Gronkowski told reporters later. "We've got to bounce back. Today wasn't good at all. We fought back, we stuck together, which is what you want to see, but we've got to come out more prepared."
The Patriots have had their share of rough outings in September before, only to recover later in the season to advance deep in the playoffs and even win the Super Bowl. Disappointing as this loss was, it's far from the worst defeat the Patriots have ever suffered.
Give Jacksonville credit, too. The Jaguars managed to hang onto their lead this time, unlike in the AFC title game, when so much more was at stake. They talked considerably this week and backed it up with their play on Sunday. Congratulations to them.
Remember, though, it's still only Week 2.