FOXBOROUGH – Rarely do regular season games have the feel of a preseason game. Sometimes in the final week of the season, when a win or loss means virtually nothing in the standings. But September games? Those are always meaningful.
Well, almost always.
Going into this Jaguars game, the Patriots did their best to sell us all week that this was a dangerous, talented, young team to be feared. Perhaps they were saying so to convince themselves more than us.
When kickoff neared, the relatively unknown Jags deactivated several of their best players due to injury – DE Andre Branch, TE Julius Thomas, LT Luke Joeckel, to name a few. They were underdogs going in, and this put them further behind the 8-ball. The outcome seemed predestined, which made much of the contest somewhat lackluster (which is odd to say when a team drops more than 50 points on another club). It was a workmanlike performance by the home team, lacking the emotion that we saw a week ago in Orchard Park.
To New England's credit, the Patriots came out fired up, marching for a touchdown on their opening possession. Maybe some of the energy from last week's exhaustive contest with Buffalo carried over a bit.
Aside from praising the Jaguars all week and stressing how much work the Patriots needed to put in to learn about their unfamiliar opponents, the other message New England was preaching was the need to play at a high level for all four quarters – something they hadn't done well enough in their two previous wins this season.
Well, after scoring 51 points through the air, on the ground, and off the foot of Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots offense sure came close, while the defense – two touchdown passes surrendered notwithstanding – put in a solid effort overall as well.
So, going into their early bye week, the Patriots came out of their blowout of the Jaguars trying, yet again, to find something – anything – to critique about themselves.
"We still have a lot of stuff to work on, a lot of room to improve," maintained running back LeGarrette Blount, he of the three-TD performance Sunday. "There's a lot we have to do to get 60 minutes of good football out of us. We haven't done that yet."
"All week we've been hearing about it – playing 60 minutes and finishing every play," remarked safety/co-captain Devin McCourty, who came down with an interception of Jaguars QB Blake Bortles. "And I thought in the second half, we came out with that sense of urgency with some key third-down stops on defense and then our offense moving the ball and then that last drive, keeping the ball for so long. I think defensively, obviously we want to play better. To get off the field [instead of letting up those touchdowns] would've been a better execution of 60 minutes, but overall, I thought it was a decent job."
Special teams co-captain Matthew Slater was left searching for plays to criticize afterward.
"Didn't even get a chance to cover a punt," he smirked after his team scored on every possession except the kneel-down to run out the clock. "You never really are surprised, with the personnel that we have and the way we work, the way that we're coached, but obviously, you never expect to go out there and put up those points. That's a good football team we played today. It's a byproduct of execution and preparation."
Was it as easy as it looked for the Patriots? They won't admit that.
"I'm sure there are things we can do better," wide receiver Julian Edelman asserted. "Gotta watch the film, but it was a great team win. We have a group of guys that come in here each and every day, bring the hard hat and lunch pail and work our tails off. A lot of people don't understand the kind of work that we put in. We're here in this building a lot. We take pride in our preparation. It's been showing these past three weeks. We have to continue to try to do that."
Jacksonville may not have put up much of a fight this Sunday, but the Patriots' next opponent is really a nobody (New England is off next Sunday). However, the bye week offers an opportunity to use the next few days of preparation to rest and replenish their individual bodies and their collective units on offense, defense, and special teams, which already seem to be rounding into mid-season form.