FOXBORO, Mass. – All week long, all we heard was "Fred Taylor this, Maurice Jones-Drew that."
The Jacksonville Jaguars' dynamic backfield duo was purportedly the right concoction needed to cure the NFL of what has ailed it all season: the juggernaut New England Patriots.
Indeed, the Pats defense had shown some vulnerability against the run late in the season, and to a man, New England players and coaches spoke glowingly about the Jags' top two rushers leading up to their Divisional Playoff Game Saturday night in Foxboro.
At the same time, they marveled at how big, strong, and physical the Jacksonville front four was on defense. Their skill, it was said, was at stuffing the run.
But you'd never have guessed that if you watched the game.
New England's defense was the one stopping the run, limiting the Pro Bowl-bound Taylor to just 47 yards on 13 carries (a 3.6-yard average) and Jones-Drew to a mere 19 yards on six rush attempts.
Meanwhile, Pats RB Laurence Maroney spent the evening imposing his will on the Jaguar defense. He piled up 122 tough yards on 22 carries, the most impressive, perhaps, coming at the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second. His four straight runs inside the Jacksonville 10-yard line culminated in a touchdown run that put New England up 14-7.
But Jacksonville knew what was coming (they loaded up the box) and they still couldn't stop it.
"I felt very comfortable today," Maroney told reporters afterward, "and the offensive line and receivers did a good job blocking once again downfield. I just tried to get into a rhythm and run hard."
"It's always great to have a strong running game," said FB Heath Evans, who helped pave the way for Maroney's TD run.
"For half the year Tom Brady was doing it all by himself with the receivers and during the most important time of the year, Maroney stepped up. That's my praise for him, its good coaching and listening on his part. He ran hard and he has a lot of talent and I'm proud of him."
"Really, Laurence, thank God, lost it there for a little bit, but he's obviously found his way, and was extremely productive tonight. Had some huge runs," said QB Tom Brady, who set an NFL record for completion percentage by going 26-for-28.
His only two incompletions were drops, but Brady's receivers made some spectacular one-handed grabs to help boost his statistics. Yet, it was the work they did when they weren't catching passes that caught Brady's eye.
"I thought the receivers did an incredible job of blocking, I don't know if you guys noticed that, but that's what it takes: team football. I think that's why we're in this position: because of a bunch of selfless players, whether it be Laurence or the receivers or the offensive line, always count on each other to do their job."
The Patriots running game clearly tipped the balance of power Saturday night. It not only helped set up some great play-action passes – like Brady's mesmerizing fake bad snap that resulted in a touchdown pass to WR Wes Welker – it also drained precious time off the clock.
And with New England scoring on nearly every possession, Jacksonville desperately needed every second they could get their hands on to try to keep pace with the Pats. As valiant an effort as their QB, David Garrard, put forth, it wasn't nearly enough.
Ironically, Jacksonville's lack of a running attack may have helped them, because Garrard seemed to have his way with the New England secondary. His precision passes, often thrown under extreme duress from the Pats pass rush, were shredding the New England secondary throughout the first half and most of the second.
It didn't help that nickel corner Randall Gay was thrust into the starting lineup at right corner. That spot is normally occupied by Ellis Hobbs, who saw action in Gay's nickel spot, but was limited due to a groin injury apparently suffered this week in practice.
With Hobbs playing a diminished role, and fellow corner Asante Samuel not having his best game, Garrard led his offense on touchdown scoring drives of 80 and 95 yards in the first half.
But at halftime, head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Dean Pees took corrective action. The key, according to LB Tedy Bruschi, was winning the battle on first and second down.
"You want to contain a player to maybe two or three yards on first down," Bruschi noted. "Theirs were a good five or six [in the first half]. And that would put them in makeable third down situations."
"Things didn't go the way we expected," added LB Adalius Thomas. "We made some changes and adjusted pretty well in the second half."
The problem for Jacksonville in the second half was that they were trading touchdowns for field goals. What's more, New England's defense won the turnover battle, recovering a Garrard fumble late in the first half and intercepting a pass at the end of the fourth quarter.
"Luckily we made more plays," Thomas concluded.
"I think that we took what they gave us," left tackle Matt Light reasoned. "We wanted to mix and match [runs and passes on offense] and we got some tight ends back who are healthy. It was great to have them in the game plan and to be able to utilize what they do.
"We were pretty balanced. I don't know what the numbers were exactly, but I felt like we were pretty effective on both the run and the pass. We would have liked to finish a couple more of those drives, but overall when you only punt once at the very end of the game, it's a pretty good offensive [performance]."
In the end, New England won, 31-20, because they could run the ball, and Jacksonville, couldn't. They forced turnovers, and the Jags didn't. They made halftime adjustments that worked, and Jacksonville didn't.