You know when you watch a slasher film and, inevitably, end up screaming at the screen that the bad guy isn’t dead yet? The real life, sports version of that bad guy is Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Once again, an opponent had the Patriots on the ground, gasping for air, and once again that opponent failed to empty a metaphorical round of bullets into Brady and Belichick’s chest to make sure they didn’t get back up.
You know the rest. No different than Jason or Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, the Patriots made everyone believe they were done just long enough that when they erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20 in the AFC Championship Game, it made you shake your head and mutter ‘of course’.
Only instead of a mask and machete, New England did it with a hoodie and right arm as Belichick made his signature second-half adjustments and Brady rose to the occasion to deliver pinpoint passes in the fourth quarter.
For Brady, the script has gotten a little too ridiculous, even by the standards of some Hollywood executives. He’s not just winning anymore, he’s doing it regularly in storybook fashion with improbable comeback after improbable comeback.
Had Brady’s performance against Jacksonville come in, say, 2010, it may have been less predictable and more awe-inspiring than it was for many on Sunday.
But because he’s similarly pulled a rabbit out of his hat twice in the past three years alone – and that too on the biggest stage in American sports – we’ve become spoiled and somewhat numb to the heroics.
Here are some ridiculous stats that will get your feeling back. Only 11 times in NFL playoff history has a team trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter and gone on to win. Four of those have been by the Patriots in the Brady-Belichick era: against the Jaguars on Sunday, against Atlanta in last year’s Super Bowl, against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX (2015) and against Oakland in the famous ‘Tuck Rule Game’ in 2002.
Brady’s combined fourth-quarter stats in the past three efforts: 45-of-56 completions, 514 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 134.7.
Those numbers, again, have come in three quarters of play, in high-pressure situations and twice against the top-ranked pass defence of that season – Jacksonville this year and Seattle in 2014.
So the comeback against the Jaguars on Sunday was spectacular, but it wasn’t something we’ve never seen before. It’s just that the circumstances were slightly different – Brady was nursing a cut on his throwing hand that required 12 stitches – the characters new with Jalen Ramsey and the outspoken Jaguars the latest victims, and the level of difficulty raised with Brady taking punishing hits at the age of 40 and missing top target Rob Gronkowski (concussion) for most of the game.
“He’s the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time), man. He did G.O.A.T.-like stuff,” said New England safety Duron Harmon.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In less than two weeks we’ll see Brady, Belichick and the Patriots go for a sixth ring against Philadelphia. No matter how promising it may look for the Eagles in the game, they better not turn their back on the NFL’s unkillable force.
Both on paper and on the field, the Jacksonville Jaguars defence is built to stop Tom Brady.
The New England Patriots may be the more well-rounded and complete team in tonight’s AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium, but the Jaguars’ formidable unit is designed to even the playing field.
With their combination of pass rushing and lockdown cornerbacks, it’s no wonder the Jaguars finished the regular season boasting the second-fewest yards allowed in the NFL (286.1 per game), second-fewest points surrendered (16.8), fewest passing yards against (169.9), the lowest passer rating (68.5), the second-most sacks (55) and second-most takeaways (33).
New England, meanwhile, had the second-best scoring offence in the league (28.6 points) and gained the most yards (394.2) with Brady again leading a high-octane attack.
When Brady meets the Jaguars, it’ll be a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
However, the Patriots are more uniquely equipped to exploit Jacksonville in ways other teams have failed to do this season.
According to Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars’ defensive effectiveness has been highly dependent on which offensive formation they face.
When opposing offences lined up with three wide receivers or more, Jacksonville had the league’s best success rate at 39 per cent, the fewest yards per attempt at 5.0 and the second-best passer rating at 59.
When offences lined up with one or two wide receivers though, the Jaguars’ defensive ranks fell sharply as their success rate of 55 per cent (23rd), yards per attempt of 9.6 (28th) and passer rating of 99 (18th) were all in the bottom half of the league.
The discrepancy plays right into the Patriots’ hands as Sharp Football Analysis found they used 11 personnel (three wide receivers) the sixth-least of any team in the league, while using 21 personnel (two wide receivers, two running backs and one tight end) the most.
When using 21 personnel, New England had a 64 per cent success rate, 9.0 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 133.
If the Patriots flash the threat of a running game, Jacksonville will be forced to put their base personnel on the field on early downs, which would make them more susceptible to play action while potentially slowing down their pass rush.
Brady could then attack mismatches in the middle of the field which pit the Jaguars’ linebackers on New England’s shifty running backs and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
While the weakness of Jacksonville’s defence makes this a more comfortable match-up for Brady than initially meets the eye, the Jaguars have two aces up their sleeves that could potentially neutralise the Patriots’ advantage.
The first could see two All-Pros battle head-to-head if Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey is lined up on Gronkowski.
Cornerbacks are usually at a size disadvantage against Gronkowski, but the 6-foot-1 Ramsey possess elite athleticism along with physicality that could disrupt the tight end, particularly in the red zone.
“He hasn’t played a corner like me before,” said the ever-confident Ramsey.
Jacksonville’s other equaliser could be their pass rush, which has the ability to generate pressure on with the front four alone – the exact style that gave Brady and the Patriots trouble in both Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants.
And while former Giants coach Tom Coughlin won’t be on the sidelines tonight (UAE: 00:05 +1), he’s helped put together the Jaguars’ personnel with the knowledge of what if takes to beat New England.
Plenty of attention has been paid to Brady’s mysterious hand injury in the lead-up, but there’s no doubt the biggest obstacle standing in his way of another Super Bowl appearance is a hungry and capable Jacksonville defence.
Here are five things we learned from week 12 of the NFL.
AFC IS SIGNIFICANTLY WEAKER
As the weeks go on, it’s becoming more and more clear that the NFC’s depth of quality teams far outweighs what the opposite conference has.
Whereas the NFC has five teams with a record of 8-3 or better, the AFC only has two in New England and Pittsburgh. After the cream of the crop in the AFC, there’s a severe drop off with Kansas City leading the AFC West with just six wins, while the wild card race could produce a winner with an 8-8 record.
ARIANS WORKING MAGIC WITH BLAINE
Blaine Gabbert may be in the midst of a revival after leading the Cardinals to a win over one of the best defences in the league in Jacksonville.
While he’s made his share of mistakes over his two starts (three interceptions), he’s also moved the ball through the air and looked like a capable quarterback. His 87.6 passer rating doesn’t jump off the page, but it’s impressed coach Bruce Arians enough to say he could see Gabbert as the starter in 2018 if Carson Palmer is no longer around. Arians’ system can work wonders it seems.
CRABTREE, TALIB SUSPENSIONS VALID
Michael Crabtree and Aqib Talib were each handed a two-game suspension for fighting in Sunday’s game, which may sound too harsh, but it’s a worthwhile precedent to set.
Crabtree and Talib are taking their bad blood too far and while the latter’s chain-snatching antics are comical, the fact is both players were representing themselves in a poor light while also hurting their teams by being ejected. Both of them need to grow up, act like adults and not throw hands again when they likely meet next season.
IT’S GO TIME FOR JIMMY G
The universe forced the 49ers hand and thrust Jimmy Garoppolo into action at the end of Sunday’s game after C.J. Beathard was knocked out, but it’s time for coach Kyle Shanahan to make the switch himself.
That’s no knock on Beathard, but San Francisco need to see what they have with Garoppolo before the offseason hits and they have to decide whether or not to hand him a big long-term contract. Beathard’s injuries aren’t serious, but they may provide enough of an excuse to make the move.
EAGLES PUT ON A GOOD SHOW
And that’s not even referring to their quality of play. No team has pulled off consistently fun team celebrations after touchdowns like the Eagles this season.
After hearing players’ gripes for so long that the league was sapping all the fun out with their strict celebration rules, it’s nice to see Philadelphia take advantage of the new lax guidelines and do something seemingly every week that’s worth tuning in for, whether that’s baseball simulations or choreographed dances.