The beat goes on for the New England Patriots. One more down, two more to go.
This latest victory wasn't without some tense moments, however, as the Jaguars moved the ball with surprising ease and stood tied with the Patriots at halftime. The game then turned in the second half on two dropped passes by the Jaguars.
"The energy, the effort, the plan we put together was sound. We didn't get enough done. In the second half, they held us to two field goals," coach Jack Del Rio said following the Jaguars' 31-20 loss to the Patriots in a divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
New England, 17-0, advances to the AFC title game against the winner of Sunday's San Diego at Indianapolis game. The Jaguars' season ended with the franchise's deepest penetration into the postseason in eight years.
"We want to win a championship. We've been in the (playoffs) two of the last three years. We advanced one round this year," Del Rio said.
Quarterback Tom Brady was the difference in the Patriots' win over the Jaguars. Brady completed 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 141.4 passer rating.
Brady was so dominant that the Patriots didn't punt until the final seconds of the game, when they were in clock-killing mode. Brady was so dominant that the Jaguars didn't have a pass-defensed.
It was a case of pitch and catch all night, and the Jaguars tried every strategy imaginable to slow down Brady. The Jaguars opened in "nickel," then switched to a 3-3-5 alignment. After halftime, they played 4-3 "Cover Two" and "nickel." Nothing worked.
In addition to Brady's exceptional passing performance, running back Laurence Maroney added 122 yards rushing, including consecutive runs of 29 and 11 yards that kind of sealed the deal.
"Unfortunately, Tom didn't slip on the way to work," Del Rio joked. "Brady was very, very good. We made him be patient. He was very patient; willing to nibble."
When the nibbling was over, all the meat had been picked from the Jaguars' bones. Against any other quarterback, David Garrard's performance would've won the day, but not against Brady.
"We felt we would have to score to win this game. David played well," Del Rio said of his quarterback, who opened the game by leading the Jaguars on an 80-yard touchdown drive he capped with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Matt Jones.
Garrard was exceptionally sharp in the drive and stayed that way throughout the game. On a fourth-and-one play from the Patriots' 43 in the opening drive, Garrard rolled to his right and had three options: run for the first down, throw to a wide open short receiver or take a shot downfield. He did the latter and completed a 34-yard pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis.
Brady kept the pressure on the Jaguars offense to score and the Jaguars cracked in the third quarter, trailing the Patriots, 21-14, following an opening-possession touchdown drive by the Pats. On a third-and-11 play from the Patriots 21, Garrard put the ball on Dennis Northcutt's hands as Northcutt raced over the middle at the two-yard line. Northcutt was unable to catch the pass, however, and the Jaguars had to settle for a field goal.
The second crack in the Jaguars offense occurred on its next possession, after the Patriots had executed another long touchdown drive to take a 28-17 lead. On third and goal from the Pats seven-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Garrard hit Matt Jones in the hands in the back-left corner of the end zone. Jones was unable to make the catch and, again, the Jaguars had to settle for a field goal.
New England added a field goal and Garrard was intercepted by Rodney Harrison on a fourth-down play with 3:46 to play in the game.
"It's similar to what Indy does," Del Rio said of New England's style of play. "You're going to need points to beat the top teams in the league."
"When we got into the red zone, we made it tough on ourselves not scoring touchdowns," Garrard said. "I thought we could fight fire with fire."
"I hate that it had to end. It was my most fun (season)," running back Fred Taylor said.
Taylor started to find holes in the Patriots defensive line in the second quarter, but the pressure the Patriots put on the Jaguars to score and the Jaguars' failures in the red zone forced the Jaguars to turn away from the running game. Taylor finished with 47 yards on 13 rushing attempts.
"Their defense is OK. Their offense is what's keeping that team together," Taylor said of the Patriots.
"I didn't want it to end. Just looking at the time tick away, I just didn't want it to end," he added.
The Jaguars head into an offseason that will likely center on repairs to the defense. Injuries over the last two years have decimated the defensive line and the secondary was picked clean in several games this season.
"There are definitely things to build on," Del Rio said.