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Setting the table: Jaguars vs. Patriots

Posted Dec 18, 2012

Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars prepare for the New England Patriots.

The buzz

The task, at first glance, seems daunting.

In fact, with the Jaguars (2-10) struggling and with the opponent Sunday – the New England Patriots – playing at their usual high level, the task is difficult however many glances you take.

The buzz, then? Well, this week, the buzz is that the Jaguars enter the week answering a whole lot of questions no team wants to answer at the end of a season – questions about playing for pride, as well as questions about uncertain futures.

The more immediate question? Just how can the Jaguars beat the Patriots?

The answer is it won’t be easy. The Patriots are heavily favored, and with quarterback Tom Brady at the peak of his Hall of Fame powers – and with the Jaguars struggling to get a pass rush defensively – just about every matchup favors New England.

The Patriots also have motivation. While they have clinched a 10th AFC East title in 12 seasons, they are still fighting for playoff seeding, so look for all of their healthy front-line players to play the entire game. And with the exception of a prime-time loss to San Francisco this past Sunday, they are peaking, entering that loss having won seven consecutive games.

The Jaguars, after a 24-19 victory over Tennessee, have lost their last three games, including a 24-3 loss at Miami this past Sunday.

Opponent’s storyline

The Patriots (10-4) are again one of the NFL’s elite teams, and a narrow, late loss to the 49ers Sunday notwithstanding they enter the final two games of the season as one of the league’s hottest teams. The loss to the 49ers, though, did hurt their playoff positioning. Before that game, they were within a game of the top seed and having beaten the Houston Texans two weeks ago, needed only to win out and have the Texans lose once to secure the top seed. Now, the Patriots appear more likely to be the third seed – unless they win out and Denver loses once and/or Houston loses twice. How important is seeding for the Patriots? In five Super Bowl appearances with Bill Belichick as head coach and Brady at quarterback, they have never made it without being the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

The broadcast

The Jaguars-Patriots game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m. will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WETV CBS 47 (Channel 6). Kevin Harlan will be on play-by-play with analysis by Solomon Wilcots.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says

“We don’t get too far beyond the next week’s opponent. We haven’t thought about a bye, or the playoffs. It’s not really in our thought. Now, it’s Jacksonville. Our season is not over by any means. We lost (on Sunday) to a good team (the 49ers) playing very average football. We’re 10-4. It’s not a great record, but that’s where we deserve to be. We have to go down to Jacksonville and try to win a football game.”

Early matchup to watch

Cecil Shorts, wide receiver, versus Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. If you had to identify the brightest spot on the Jaguars this season, Shorts would be the obvious choice. He has been the most consistent weapon on an offense that has struggled, and without him, the offense has been ineffective at times. The Patriots’ defense in recent seasons hasn’t been as dominant as in the early part of last decade, but Belichick is perhaps the NFL’s best when it comes to taking away an opponent’s best offensive weapon. This could be done with one-on-one coverage, or with a combination of a safety and various cornerbacks, but typically, Belichick’s approach is to take the best option away and force you to be effective somewhere else. Shorts needs 75 yards to become the first Jaguars receiver since 2005 to reach 1,000 yards. That would be an impressive accomplishment Sunday.

Player to watch

Justin Blackmon, Jaguars wide receiver. With the Patriots perhaps focusing on Shorts, Blackmon likely will need to be productive for the offense to be effective. In recent weeks, that has happened more and more often. After struggling at times at the beginning of the season, Blackmon broke out with a seven-reception, 236-yard performance in the 10th game of the season against Houston. He hasn’t matched that sort of explosiveness since, but he has been more consistent and this past Sunday, he caught six passes for 93 yards. He has 51 receptions for 707 yards and three touchdowns this season.

What to watch

* The status of running back Maurice Jones-Drew will be an issue for the Jaguars this week. He has missed the last eight games with a foot sprain, but could get work with strength and conditioning coach Tom Myslinski this week. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, after categorizing the three-time Pro Bowl selection as “very questionable” in recent weeks, said Jones-Drew is questionable heading into Wednesday. If Jones-Drew can’t play, look for Montell Owens to get a third consecutive start with backup running back Rashad Jennings still in the concussion program as of Monday.

* Linebacker Daryl Smith also has a chance to return Sunday, Mularkey said early this week. Smith, out since training camp with a groin injury, is eligible to be activated from the injured reserve/designated to return list this week. Mularkey said this week he believes Smith has a better chance to play Sunday than Jones-Drew.

* Cornerback Aaron Ross likely will begin the week working limited because of a calf injury, Mularkey said Monday, while defensive end George Selvie (concussion) will be monitored and could play if symptoms subside.

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