By Norm Elrod
It’s only week 2, and we already have a rematch of the last season’s AFC Championship and, possibly, a preview of this season’s. The Jacksonville Jaguars head to Foxborough on Sunday to face the New England Patriots.
Both teams are coming off solid wins to start the season. The Jaguars did enough to get past the improved New York Giants, and the Patriots contained Deshaun Watson in his return for the Houston Texans. Neither win was overly impressive, but both were the kind of wins that good teams put together early in the season, while still working out the kinks.
The Jaguars, who are looking to ride their defense again this season, contained a Giants offense with enough talent to be a threat. Top draft pick Saquon Barkley put up 106 yards and a touchdown. But aside from a nifty 68-yard score, he was limited to a positively pedestrian 17 carries for 38 yards and 2 catches for 22 yards. The Jags secondary did have some problems with Odell Beckham, now healthy and paid, who pulled in 11 catches for 111 yards and drew multiple pass interference penalties. Without the Jags’ pressure and Eli Manning’s misfires, those stats would’ve been even better.
Last year’s #2 defense turned one of those pressures into a Myles Jack pick-six. It was a needed assist, as the Jaguars’ offense barely got out of first gear. Leonard Fournette started off strong, picking up 41 yards on 9 carries before leaving with a minor hamstring strain in the second quarter. T.J. Yeldon stepped in with another 51 yards on 16 carries. Blake Bortles was his usual mundane self, completing 18 passes for 176 yards.
Will game-manager mode be enough to keep up with the Patriots? Probably not, especially if Fournette, who sat out practice on Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday, can’t play and Tom Brady picks up where he left off last week.
The ageless Brady looked to be in midseason form against the Texans, going 26 for 39 and 277 yards. He tossed three TD passes, including one to Rob Gronkowski, who had 7 receptions for 123 yards. The Pats, however, were far from perfect. Brady and Gronk each turned the ball over, as did Riley McCarron, the now ex-backup receiver who muffed a punt. With Julian Edelman suspended, Phillip Dorsett was more involved in the offense, hauling in all 7 of his targets, and finding the end zone. But the Patriots remain short on weapons.
The defense showed some progress in Week 1, pressuring Watson repeatedly and sacking him three times. That pressure, often without extra blitzers, kept Watson from getting too comfortable in the backfield. He still managed to pick up 40 yards with his feet, and the Pats D gave up another 98 yards to Lamar Miller.
So what does all this portend for week 2?
The Patriots are depleted at wide receiver and banged up at running back. And the Jags defense is, again, as good as advertised. But Brady is still Brady, and Gronk is still Gronk. It might just come down to whether Jalen Ramsey can shut down the Pats’ tight end.
The New England defense shouldn’t have much trouble pressuring and containing Bortles, especially if Fournette sits. The Jags’ offense isn’t even what it was last season, and it wasn’t all that much last season. Bortles isn’t type of quarterback to carry his team.
The Pats will put up enough points to win, but this match-up won’t be an offensive showdown. As SportsLine analyst R.J. White sees it:
The Patriots defense looked much improved in Week 1 against a Texans offense for which many had high hopes. The Jaguars offense on the other hand didn’t inspire any sort of confidence against the Giants, punting the ball on every second-half possession until the clock hit zeroes and only scoring one offensive TD in the game. Tom Brady always has the ability to ruin an Under play, but if there’s any defense that has a chance of limiting the Patriots to a low point total, it’s this one.