Jaguars at Patriots
This one had to sting for Jags fans. After a season filled with miraculous play that continuously defied the national narrative, the Jags get sent home after a 4 point loss after blowing a lead in a controversial game. The Jags dominated during the post season as well. In fact, in the 180 minutes the Jags played during these playoffs, they only trailed for 14 minutes and 41 seconds, per The MMQB. The Jaguars were behind their opponents only about 8.3% of the time they were on the field during the playoffs.
The question for the Jags will now be what do to with the conundrum that is Blake Bortles. Bortles has looked talented as well as inconsistent during his stint with the Jags, and he is fully-gauranteed a fifth-year option worth 19 million bucks in 2018. But if the Jags cut him before the start of the new league year (March) then they could clear the 19 mill off their books completely.
Even with Bortles counting against their salary cap, the Jaguars have almost 26 million in cap space available for next season.
All things considered, it is pretty amazing that 40-year old Tom Brady had a 136.3 fourth-quarter QB rating against the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, per Bleacher Report. In the Brady/Belichick era the Pats now have four playoff victories when trailing by 10+ in the fourth quarter, per ESPN Stats and Info. Don’t get me wrong, it is not as if Brady played horrendously, far from it in fact, but the Patriots did not win because of Tom Brady. The Patriots won because of Danny Amendola, the refs, and clutch defensive plays.
First off yes, anyone who claims the Jags got screwed by the refs has every right to complain. The Jaguars got flagged 10 times, many of which were questionable calls at best, and the Patriots were only penalized once—and it was on special teams. But it is worth noting that the Jaguars were the NFL’s 4th-most penalized team in 2017. It is also worth noting that the Jags didn’t help themselves in this game.
While the Jags were blowing a lead in the fourth quarter, their offense ended up punting three times in a seven-minute window during the 4th quarter. The Jaguars also happen to have Leonard Fournette, one of the best running backs in the NFL, and they leaned on him consistently during their playoff success. But against the Patriots with the game on the line, the Jags opted to pass on 6 plays in a row before Stephon Gilmore ended up making the play of the game. On 4th down on their final possession in the 4th quarter the Jags had to go for it, but Stephon Gilmore timed his jump perfectly and used his superior athleticism to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl. By the way, none of the final 6 passing plays for the Jaguars had any kind of the screens and play action the Jags and Bortles have found so much success with.
In a game where every possession mattered, the Jaguars got the ball back after a New England score before halftime. There were 55 seconds left in the half and the Jags had 2 timeouts, but they opted to kneel twice and take the game into halftime instead of using the opportunity to be aggressive. While the Jaguars usually impressive defensive line played the run extremely well (only allowed 46 yards on 14 rushes), they failed to pass rush as effectively as they have in games past. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady was only pressured on 9 of his 42 dropbacks.
New England fans need to realize Danny Amendola is as important to this offense as Rob Gronkowski is at this point. Sidenote: according to a report by Boston Herald reporter Jeff Howe, the Pats are “optimistic” that Gronk will be cleared to play in the Super Bowl after getting concuzzied against the Jaguars.
Gronkowski’s talent is unmatched, as no player has recorded more touchdowns than Gronk since he was drafted in 2010. In Gronk’s absence, former Colts standout Dwayne Allen would be the likely next man up. He saw the majority of snaps at tight end with Gronkowski out, but failed to make a catch all day.
Despite Gronk’s talent and his role in the offense, at this point with him hurt and Eldelman out for the season, Amendola is now as important to making this offense tick as Gronk is. Amendola seemingly made catch after catch on third that drove the Pats down the field the entire game. He finished the day with 7 catches on 9 targets for 84 yards and 2 TDs. Both of Amendola’s touchdowns came late in the 4th quarter with the playoffs hanging in the balance, and he also had a 20-yard punt return late in the 4th quarter that gave the Patriots great field position. He also had more total yards in this game than any Patriot not named Tom Brady. This Danny Amendola TD ended up being the game-winner that put the Patriots up 24-20:
Next week the Patriots will face their greatest challenge of the season as they face an Eagles team that just absolutely garbaged a Vikings team that many previously thought looked like one of the few teams that could knock the Pats off the mountain.
Vikings at Eagles
The corner routes and comebacks that worked for the Vikings earlier in the first quarter (their first touchdown was on a corner route to Rudolph) were not nearly as effective as the game went on, and that lack of success on those plays was a significant part of the reason this blowout happened.
The Eagles caught on and started jumping corners and comebacks to make plays on the ball, and this combined with a defensive pass rush that the Vikings had no answer for. Patrick Robinson’s interception late in the first quarter demonstrates what I am talking about here:
The Vikings attempted to throw another corner route, Robinson jumped it, and the pass was horrendous because Keenum was getting tackled as the threw. Also, not sure if anyone saw this but Ronald Darby got absolutely housed and helicoptered by Jerick McKinnon on a block during this return.
As one can see, Darby now has the same rotational axis as Uranus while McKinnon now comfortably jogs away (true story look it up, Uranus is the only planet in our solar system that rotates on its side). This interception added to Robinson’s already impressive highlight tape for this season. Patrick Robinson’s play has been the best of his career thus far, and it has culminated in a career-high 4 interceptions for #21 this season.
Foles’ improvement week to week has been nothing short of incredible. In prior weeks, Foles has been criticized for his lack of arm strength, accuracy, and deep ball ability. He appeared to put many of his critics to rest by hucking it 33 times for 352 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions on a day where he made very few mistakes. He also had a 141.4 QB rating. Gotta give credit to Doug Pederson for keeping this team together and coaching Foles well. In one week Foles went from this:
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) January 22, 2018
Foles was consistently able to get the ball out quickly and seemingly fired slant after slant as the Eagles drove up and down the field. In addition to the quick passes that got Eagles playmakers in space, Foles was able to throw 2 bombs on 2 flea-flicker plays that went for touchdowns. The first one went to Alshon Jeffery and the second was hauled in by Torrey Smith. The newly acquired pair of wide-outs combined for 10 catches, 154 yards, and were responsible for catching all of Nick Foles’ 3 TD passes.
Postgame, LeGarrette Blount said of Foles, “We totally believe in him. We can’t help it if other people don’t. That’s on them. They’re making a mistake”. Blount might have a point. The 31-point margin the Eagles won by is the most any Eagles team has won a playoff game by in the history of the franchise.
Blount has a reason to believe in Foles and this team because the Vikings vaunted defense was shredded by an Eagles team that statistically but on the best offensive performance of any team who has played the Vikings this season. The 38 points, and the 456 yards the Eagles put up were both the most points and yards surrendered by the Vikings defense in a single game all season.
The Vikings best offensive player was playing with a pretty severe/painful back injury that very few media members are highlighting. Per RotoWorld.com, Thielen is believed to have suited up against the Eagles with transverse process fractures in his back. That’s fractures with an S. As in plural fractures in his fucking back while he is playing tackle football with NFL athletes. The dude is an animal and at 27 years old he still has a bright future ahead of him in the NFL.
Thielen is playing in an offense that wasn’t centered around him, has a relatively poor offensive line, a complete lack of a running game, and a quarterback Jeff Fisher benched at one point in his career. Despite all that, Thielen’s receiving yards total this season was good for 5th best behind only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Keenan Allen, and DeAndre Hopkins.