When the Patriots ran:
Jacksonville's run defense was not great during the regular season, finishing 21st in the league in that department. But things changed a bit midseason when the Jags traded for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and on Sunday the front completely stymied the Patriots rushing attack. Dion Lewis, who had been productive down the stretch, was helpless against the Jags physical and athletic front seven. He finished with just 34 yards on nine carries, although 18 of those yards came on a third-and-nine run that ended the game. Overall New England managed only 46 yards on 19 carries for a pathetic 2.4-yard average, and that included the aforementioned 18-yard scoot by Lewis that caught the Jags in a blitz. Jacksonville consistently won the battles at the line of scrimmage and frequently got penetration against the Patriots backs, forcing Lewis and the others to make cuts before finding any running room. The lack of production on the ground was a big part of the offensive struggles.
When the Patriots passed:
The bottom line numbers would indicate another Jags advantage in this department. Tom Brady never really looked comfortable and aside from some occasional pass interference calls on deep balls the passing game wasn't overly productive. Then the Patriots trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter and Brady became Brady – with a lot of help from Danny Amendola. At that point New England fashioned a pair of touchdown drives, the first included a huge third-and-18 conversion to Amendola that may have saved the season. Amendola eventually finished that 85-yard march with a 9-yard TD, then he started the next one with a 20-yard punt return and finished the Jags with a breathtaking 4-yard, toe-tapping TD in the back of the end zone. He finished with seven catches for 84 yards and now has 18 receptions for 196 yards in the postseason. Brady shook off the sluggish first three quarters and completed 26 of 38 for 290 yards and the two TDs. He did that without Rob Gronkowski, who was knocked from the game with a concussion in the second quarter. Brandin Cooks stepped up in his absence, catching six passes for 100 yards and also drawing a pair of pass interference penalties. The Jags secondary was tough and did a great job of tackling, but when the game was on the line Brady was better.
When the Jaguars ran:
As expected, the Patriots front seven did a great job on Jags running back Leonard Fournette. The big back was held in check throughout the game, finishing with just 76 yards on 24 carries for a 3.2-yard average. He never got untracked, finishing with 40 yards on 11 carries in the first half and 36 on 13 after the break. Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Ricky Jean Francois once again played together in the Patriots "heavy" front and did a great job of stuffing the middle. Aside from Fournette's 4-yard touchdown run, which came right up the gut, the defensive tackles held the point of attack effectively and allowed the linebackers to fill. The Jaguars finished with 101 yards on 32 carries for a 3.2-yard average, which wasn't quite enough given the style they want to play and the manner in which they opted to protect their lead. With a 10-point edge in the fourth quarter, Doug Marrone wanted to pound Fournette on early downs to keep the clock and chains moving. The Patriots simply wouldn't allow that to happen, and as a result gave Brady more than enough time to pull off the comeback.
When the Jaguars passed:
Blake Bortles will never be confused with Brady but on Sunday he basically matched the GOAT pass for pass. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown and avoided the turnovers that have plagued him throughout his young career. In the first half he was brilliant, consistently using play action to find open receivers as he connected on 13 of 15 throws for 155 yards and a touchdown. He was poised in the pocket and converted on third down (4 of 6) in first half and had his team in position to win. He wasn't quite as sharp in the second half, but he wasn't bad either. The lack of production in the running game made his job much tougher down the stretch, and he failed to hit on a few makeable throws that may have changed the outcome. Two such instances came on the final drive, first when he barely missed a streaking Fournette down the left sideline and then on fourth-and-15 he slightly underthrew Dede Westbrook and allowed Stephon Gilmore to make a tremendous play to knock it away. Bortles was good, just not good enough to beat the GOAT,
The teams basically played 55 minutes of football without a significant play one way or the other on special teams until Amendola made his presence felt. Trailing by a field goal with five minutes to go, Amendola field Brad Nortman's punt at midfield and raced 20 yards to put the Patriots in immediate field goal range. Five plays later New England had the lead and the win. Otherwise both sides were exceptional in the kicking game. Josh Lambo nailed both of his field goals with one coming from 54 yards out. The Jags also covered his kickoffs well, corralling Lewis inside the 25 of both of his returns. Ryan Allen and Nortman both had strong days as each kicked six times with Nortman (four) and Allen (three) combining for seven punts downed inside the 20. Aside from Amendola's one return, the coverage and kicks were outstanding.