O’Sullivan: Jaguars are no joke for Patriots in AFC championship

  • Workers paint the field of Gillette Stadium, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass., where the New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) Bill Sikes

  • 011918-Fans sign a Duval vs All Y'all banner as Jaguars supporters packed city hall Friday afternoon, January 19, 2018 as they celebrated during a party in anticipation of the team's upcoming AFC Championship matchup against the New England Patriots Sunday in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Bob Self/Florida Times-Union) Bob Self

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up during an NFL football practice, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship on Sunday in Foxborough.(AP Photo/Bill Sikes) Steven Senne

  • FILE - In this Jan. 12, 1997, file photo, Jacksonsville Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin looks on from the sidelines as his team plays the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. It's no exaggeration to say Tom Coughlin built the Jaguars from the ground up. It's also no exaggeration to say Coughlin's last piece of unfinished business would be bringing a Super Bowl title to the town he helped put on the map. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File) DOUG MILLS

  • FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2017, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) cheers the offensive line during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami Gardens, Fla. The New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) Lynne Sladky

  • The New England Patriots offense and Jacksonville Jaguars defense get set at the line of scrimmage during the second half of a game in Jacksonville, Fla. The Patriots host the Jaguars in the AFC championship on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. AP file

  • New England quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks to Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles (5) after a 2015 matchup in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots host the Jaguars in the AFC championship on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. AP file

  • ----Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Sun. • 3:05 p.m. EST • CBS A F C C H A M P I O N S H I P SOURCE: National Football League AP 10-6 • 2-0 13-3 • 1-0 OFFENSE Total yards (avg.): 365.9 Passing Rushing SCORING Points for DEFENSE Yards allowed (avg.): 286.1 Passing Rushing (PPG) Total yards (avg.): 394.2 Passing Rushing Points for Yards allowed (avg.): 366.0 Passing Rushing Postseason: 304.0 Postseason: 267.0 Postseason Postseason Regular-season • Postseason stats 224.6 141.4 144.5 159.5 169.9 116.2 Postseason: 404.0 297.5 106.5 16.8 Pts. allowed 22.5 27.5 14.0 35.0 18.5 Pts. allowed 202.0 65.0 251.2 114.8 Postseason: 438.0 337.0 101.0 276.1 118.1 26.1 28.6

  • ----Look for Patriots and Eagles to advance to Super Bowl New England has played in the Super Bowl in three of the past six seasons. The Jaguars are playing in the conference title game for just the third time. In the NFC, Nick Foles and the resilient Philadelphia Eagles host Case Keenum and the surprising Minnesota Vikings in a matchup of teams that overcame losing their starting quarterbacks. Barry Wilner, AP This one figures to come down to defense. Minnesota allowed the fewest points in the NFL, 252, while Philadelphia was fourth stingiest. That could mean it will be decided by the pass rush, and each team has some dynamic sack threats. This one is too close to call. So going with the hosts. MATCHUP/PICK STORYLINE The Patriots are well aware that All-Pro safety Jalen Ramsey has guaranteed a Jacksonville victory. And this is a meeting of the No. 2 (Jags) and No. 5 (Pats) scoring defense in the league. It's also a meeting of Brady against Blake Bortles. Enough said. YAWN! VIKINGS 20 EAGLES 21 Total yards Passing yards Rushing yards Total yards Passing yards Rushing yards Patriots Jaguars N F L C O N F E R E N C E C H A M P I O N S H I P S Eagles Vikings Sunday 6:40 p.m. ET FOX JAGUARS 16 PATRIOTS 31 Sunday 3:05 p.m. ET CBSat at Avg. per game (reg. season) 224.6365.9 141.4 276.1394.2 118.1234.6356.9 122.3233.6365.8 132.2

Monitor staff
Sunday, January 21, 2018

I know what you’re thinking. The Jaguars? From Jacksonville? With Blake Bortles driving the bus? That’s who the Patriots need to beat to get to the Super Bowl? Hahahahahaha…

It’s hard not laugh. I get it. The Jaguars have that historically hapless vibe, and the blatantly incompetent Bortles makes it worse in multiplies.

But we should remember, the Patriots were historically hapless … until they weren’t. Between Tom Brady’s injured hand and Jacksonville’s defense, Sunday’s AFC championship feels more dangerous than any game involving the Jags, or Jag-wires, or whatever we’re supposed to call them, should feel.

Bortles is a walking punchline. Who cares if he directed his offense to 38 points last week in Pittsburgh. Who cares if he hasn’t thrown an interception in two playoff games. Who cares if he was the third pick in the 2014 draft. He quarterbacks like he’s got one eye shut and needs a restroom.

But maybe we should care. Don’t forget, there was another highly drafted quarterback with a doofus look who seemed like a joke … until he beat the Patriots in two Super Bowls - Eli Manning.

Bortles is no Eli, and for the most part he has been painfully bad during his four-year career. But Bortles had a few moments last week in Pittsburgh that might, maybe, just a little, concern New England fans.

Of course Bortles is not the real reason the Jags are dangerous. The real reason is the same reason Eli and the Giants beat the Patriots in those two Super Bowls - defense.

More specifically, a defense that can hassle the quarterback with a four-man rush and drop seven into pass coverage. It’s no secret that’s the recipe to beat New England, and the Jaguars have all the ingredients.

Jacksonville rarely blitzes, but still finished the season with 55 sacks (second in the league) and, I have to admit, a kind of awesome, and definitely appropriate, nickname - Sacksonville.

The mayor of Sacksonville is All-Pro lineman Calais Campbell, who led the team with 14.5 sacks and is a freak-of-nature athlete at 6-foot-8, 300 pounds. When Campbell lines up at left end, he’ll be going against either LaAdrian Waddle, who injured his knee in last week’s 35-14 playoff win against Tennessee, or backup Cameron Fleming. If possible, the Patriots might want to consider putting both of them against Campbell because only one won’t be enough to stop the mayor.

End Yannick Ngakoue, undersized at 6-2, 246, totaled 12 sacks with a combination of quick-twitch athleticism and dogged effort. That’s bad news for left tackle Nate Solder, who appears to be in a dip in what has been an up-and-down season.

Tackle Malik Jackson and pass-rush specialist Dante Fowler each have eight sacks for the year. Some quick math tells you those four d-linemen accounted for 42.5 of Jacksonville’s 55 sacks, which means the New England o-line will have its hands full even if the Jaguars drop seven to cover.

Those extra numbers will help Jacksonville’s pass coverage, but it’s not just about the numbers. All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey doesn’t need any extra help. He can shut people down one-on-one. Ditto for the corner opposite Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, a Second Team All-Pro pick who led the team with six interceptions.

If those two can lock up a receiver each, that leaves five more guys to cover the rest of Tom Brady’s targets, guys like safeties Tashuan Gipson and Barry Church, who have four interceptions each this season, and speedy linebacker Telvin Smith, who has three picks on the year and scored on a 50-yard fumble return last week.

“Jacksonville has a great d-line. Not just d-line, they are good at every position – at linebacker and then obviously, the (defensive backs),” New England center David Andrews said. “Those guys up front, they have been making a lot of plays this year. They have a great scheme that really exploits their strengths.”

Add it all up and Brady figures to have a small amount of time to throw into small windows. That’s how the Giants beat the Patriots in 2007 and 2011. It’s the formula Baltimore used to beat the Patriots in the 2012 AFC title game and the New York Jets used to win in Foxborough in the 2010 playoffs.

All those losses came when Brady didn’t have an injured hand or an offensive line that had given up as many as the 35 sacks allowed this season (the fourth-most of Brady’s career). A busted up hand and leaky line don’t seem like the best weapons against the ball-hawking Jags.

This is the place where you start laughing again, your finger pointing at Bortles. Who cares about Sacksonville or All-Pro corners or Brady’s hand, he only has to score more points than ... Bortles! Hahahahaha…

Maybe we’ll all still be laughing on Sunday night. Or maybe you’ll be quieted by the Bortles who went 3-for-4 for 53 yards on the opening drive last week against Pittsburgh, leading his team to a tone-setting touchdown. Maybe the laughs will die when Bortles runs for key first downs (he had 123 rushing yards in the last two weeks), burning clock, keeping Brady off the field and keeping the score at a manageable place.

Just last year the Houston Texans used the “pressure with four and drop the rest” defensive scheme to stay close to the Patriots in a Divisional playoff game. The Texans trailed by just four, 17-13, at halftime…and then Brock Osweiler threw three second-half interceptions, gifting the game to New England.

Bortles may not be as good as Eli Manning, but he’s not nearly as bad as Osweiler. So go ahead, laugh if you want, but remember - the Patriots used to be the league’s laughing stock … until they weren’t.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @timosullivan20.)