…Jags LB Telvin Smith found himself in two unenviable positions on the game’s opening drive when he matched up 1-on-1 with WR Brandin Cooks and later, WR Danny Amendola. Both times, Smith was severely outmatched and gave up big plays – a 31-yarder to Cooks and a 20-yard completion to Amendola on 4th-and-1. Both of those yardage gainers set up New England’s first points of the night, the 31-yard field goal by kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
…On that key 4th down, Amendola was tight to the formation in the slot left. He was in a trips left with RB James White to his immediate left slot, and Cooks the flanker to that side. CB Aaron Colvin was actually marking Amendola at the line of scrimmage, with Smith assigned to White, but playing five yards back from the line. White ran a great pick on Colvin within a yard of the line of scrimmage (which is legal), and that freed up Amendola, whom Smith had no choice but to pick up at that point. Amendola’s speed allowed him to race to the sideline and haul in Brady’s floater over his shoulder and move the sticks.
…Brady was sacked on 3rd down three plays later, though, when DE Dante Fowler ran around backup RT Cameron Fleming and grabbed Brady from behind. Fleming did not react well to Fowler’s speed rush, never getting his hands in the proper position to slow down Fowler or impede his progress altogether.
…DE Trey Flowers got in QB Blake Bortles’ face on a 2nd-and-8 pass attempt down the sideline to RB Leonard Fournette that, had Flowers not been there, might have resulted in a big gain for the Jags. However, Flowers hit Bortles’ arm just as he was releasing the ball, which made the pass fall short of its target. LB Kyle Van Noy in coverage on Fournette was thus able to stick his hand in the way and knock the ball down. Jacksonville punted two plays later.
…Cooks had much success Sunday running comeback routes versus Jacksonville.
…Looked like safety Patrick Chung might’ve been confused about his assignment on the first touchdown by Jacksonville. TE Marcedes Lewis was his man, but Chung paused at the line to chip WR Marqise Lee, who was the responsibility of CB Stephon Gilmore. That slight hesitation gave Lewis an opening to the side of the end zone, where Bortles found him for an easy pitch-and-catch score.
…New England has been effective against the run in recent games, but early in this contest, the Patriots had few answers for Fournette. His o-line and other blockers did well against New England’s front and Fournette ran with confidence behind them.
…RB Rex Burkhead played his first game since Pittsburgh last month. He’d been out with a left knee injury, but his appearance was limited versus Jacksonville. After being hit hard from behind in the midsection by Smith, the linebacker, on a pass thrown to him, Burkhead was slow to get up and immediately went to the sideline once he did rise from the turf. He remained on the bench, but didn’t come back in the game after that. Although he spoke to reporters later, his health will be monitored closely over the next two weeks.
…Relentless pressure by Jacksonville’s four-man front got to Brady on the second of three Jags sacks.
…Two unfortunate penalties (from Jacksonville’s perspective) on their final drive of the half, up 14-3, pushed them back a combined 10 yards, which ultimately forced the Jags out of field goal range and having to punt to the Patriots. The second flag, for delay of game, was particularly costly because it happened on a 3rd-and-7 completion that would have given the Jags a 1st down at the New England 32.
…Next play, New England’s four-man rush got to Bortles with nothing fancy, just aggressiveness. That knocked the Jags back into their side of the 50.
…TE Rob Gronkowski suffered a devastating hit to the heat by safety Barry Church, which knocked Gronk out of the game. Like Burkhead, Gronkowski’s health will be a major talking point over the next fortnight before the Super Bowl.
…Cooks did a nice job, as he’s done all season, of drawing foolish penalties from opposing cornerbacks. In this case, A.J. Bouye’s pass interference infraction gave New England a 1st down at the Jags’ 13 right after Church incurred a 15-yard penalty for hitting Gronk illegally. These two breakdowns by Jacksonville set up the first Patriots touchdown.
…That score was a simple 1-yard run by White on a hurry-up, no-huddle play. Amendola threw a vital block on the play to help provide an opening for White to burst into the end zone.
3rd & 4th Quarters
…Flowers, who disrupted a Bortles pass attempt in the early going, knocked one down on his own on a crucial 3rd-and-4 that forced the Jags to kick a field goal rather than continue for a potential touchdown.
…A well-timed and executed safety blitz by Patrick Chung led to the sack of Bortles by DL Lawrence Guy. Chung used his speed to get by Marcedes Lewis, which forced Bortles to elude him in the pocket, but that pocket was collapsed by Flowers and Guy and Bortles had nowhere to run.
…One reason why Dion Lewis fumbled on the terrifically executed double pass play in the early 4th was, of course, a tremendous athletic play by LB Myles Jack. But another and perhaps more important reason he lost the ball was a simple, yet common mistake made by too many skill position players on offense: when they have the football near a sideline and don’t switch the ball to their arm that’s closest to that sideline.
In this case, Lewis was running along the left sideline, next to the Patriots bench, but he kept the football in his right hand, exposed to the middle of the field and oncoming defenders like Jack. Had he switched the ball over to his left, Jack might not have made the strip, and even if he did, the ball and/or the players might have been out of bounds. This is a lesson that all coaches must teach their players starting at a young age and continuing into the highest levels of the sport. Lewis made this mistake and it cost his team possession of the ball. Thankfully for him, it didn’t cost them the game.
…Excellent form tackle by safety/co-captain Devin McCourty to stop the Jags short of a 1st down on their ensuing possession and make them punt the ball back to New England.
…DL Marcell Dareus beat RG Shaq Mason, who rarely gets toasted, with a great move to knife his way into the backfield and sack Brady for the final time in the game.
…The topic of the week, Brady’s lacerated right hand didn’t seem to cause him any issues throwing the football or taking snaps under center and handing off. Brady threw the ball very well against Jacksonville despite the heavy tape on his throwing hand to protect the wound. One of his best throws of the night came on 3rd-and-18 when he completed a pass over the middle to Amendola. They’d hook up later in the drive for the first of Amendola’s two game-winning TDs.
…Next play, a flea flicker, Brady made a precise throw over the head of Jack and into the arms of WR Phillip Dorsett. The seldom-targeted receiver made a great play to pick up a huge chunk of yardage.
…That first Amendola TD was just a simple crossing route on which he beat Jack easily.
…Jags’ ensuing drive, CB Stephon Gilmore nearly made a fantastic diving interception along the Jacksonville sideline. Even though he didn’t come down with the ball, he made it fall incomplete and two plays later, the Jags punted. Gilmore has really found his rhythm in this Patriots defense after a terrible start to his career here back in September.
…Can’t undervalue how important Amendola’s 20-yard punt return meant to New England’s comeback. It put the offense at Jacksonville’s 30. His eventual second touchdown was a basic route, but his ability to keep both feet in bounds while maintaining control of the ball was phenomenal.
…What a play by 39-year-old OLB James Harrison to blow past rookie LT Cam Robinson and strip-sack Bortles on the next Jaguar possession. Jacksonville recovered, but it was a nice individual effort by Harrison in a crucial situation.
…Absolutely amazing pass defensed by Gilmore two plays later on 4th-and-15. He used textbook technique to position himself on the receiver without making contact and timing his leap perfectly to swat the ball away.
…The play that truly sealed the game was New England’s 3rd-and-9 from near midfield. The Patriots went with an I-formation, FB James Develin the lead blocker for Lewis. Develin, LT Nate Solder, and TE Dwayne Allen delivered perfect blocks to open up a huge lane for Lewis to rumble 18 yards into Jacksonville territory. Might’ve been the best-blocked run they had all day, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Victory formation ensued for three straight kneel-downs to end the contest.