What a comeback!
The Patriots secured a berth in Super Bowl LII, with their heart-stopping triumph over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Pats overcame a 20-10 fourth quarter deficit with 2 Danny Amendola touchdowns to stamp their tickets to Minnesota with a 24-20 victory.
Here are a few takeaways from yesterday’s game.
1. Tom Brady is the GOAT
TB12 had another vintage playoff performance, but to do so, he had to overcome the mysterious injury to his right hand. Brady’s hand didn’t appear to impact his throws, and he sported some black tape over his thumb. The Pats got off to a quick start on their opening drive, but didn’t have any worthwhile drives until the ending of the first half. Brady was constantly harassed by Jacksonville’s dominant pass rush, who got after him and forced him to rush his throws. Brady shook off his shaky start, and got to work in the fourth quarter. As he has done several times before in the playoffs, Brady was able to lead the Patriots to victory by thoroughly dissecting Jacksonville’s vaunted secondary with a variety of trick plays at his disposal. Brady’s clutch performance gives him a chance of winning his sixth Super Bowl on February 4th.
2. ‘Dola and Cooks step up in Gronk’s absence
The Patriots’ chances of mounting a comeback appeared to be bleak when Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the game with a concussion after being smacked by Jacksonville’s Barry Church. Luckily, TB had Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola step up in Gronk’s absence. Cooks had 6 catches for 100 yards, and also drew several defensive pass interference calls which moved the Pats down the field. Danny Amendola has been one of the Patriots’ most unheralded receivers for the last few years, but it is absolutely impossible for anyone to discount his impact during the Pats’ last few Super Bowl runs. Amendola took over the game in the fourth quarter, with a clutch punt return to give the Patriots prime field position, and he also corralled 7 catches for 84 yards. Amendola had 2 touchdown catches, including a breathtaking toe-tapper to give the Patriots a lead they would never relinquish. Amendola’s ability to come up with plays in the clutch will be vital for the Patriots to have a chance of winning the Super Bowl.
3. No one is better at making defensive adjustments than Bill Belichick
At halftime, it appeared as if the Patriots were already on the ropes, as Jacksonville appeared to be able to drive down the field without any resistance due to their reliance on chunk plays and their clever usage of play action passes. The frequency of rushing plays and play action passes made it extremely difficult for the Patriots to guess if Jacksonville was running or passing the ball. This allowed the Jaguars to gain easy yards, and keep their drives alive. Blake Bortles had the game of his life in the first half, as he easily carved up the Pats’ defense.
In the second half, Belichick had more men near the line of scrimmage, ensuring that Leonard Fournette would not have a hole to run through. Belichick and Matt Patricia dared Bortles to beat them from the pocket, but Jacksonville’s lack of faith in their quarterback showed in the second half, as they had several questionable play calls which doomed their drives. The Pats were also able to get after Bortles in the fourth quarter, with Trey Flowers and the veteran James Harrison making his life difficult. Harrison also had a strip sack on Jacksonville’s last drive, which derailed the momentum they had gained over the previous few plays. Jacksonville’s last offensive play took place on a 4th & 14, when Bortles lobbed a pass towards Dede Westbrook, hoping that the receiver could catch the ball to keep their season alive. However, the Patriots’ maligned free agent signing Stephon Gilmore jumped up and swatted the ball to the ground. Gilmore has been criticized by fans and pundits alike due to his inconsistent play throughout the season, but has been quietly making plays to help win games. Gilmore finally proved that he was worth the $65 million the team invested in him by helping them to advance to the Super Bowl.
4. Gronk’s health
Rob Gronkowski was expected to have a great impact on yesterday’s game, with the media wondering how the vaunted Jags defense would deal with the transcendent tight end. However, Gronk was a non-factor in the game, catching 1 pass for 21 yards, and was knocked out of the game with a concussion after colliding with Barry Church. Gronk being injured in the AFC title game clearly brings up bad memories from 2011, when he injured his ankle against the Baltimore Ravens, and was clearly hobbled during the loss in Super Bowl XLVI. Thankfully, Gronk should be cleared from the concussion protocol sometime in the next two weeks, and give TB another weapon to add to his arsenal for the Super Bowl.
What’s next: The Patriots will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, which is a rematch of 2004’s Super Bowl XXXIX, where the Patriots emerged victorious against the Donovan McNabb and the Eagles to secure their third Super Bowl in 4 years with their 24-21 victory. Ironically if the Patriots win on February 4th, it will be second time they win three titles in four years.