JACKSONVILLE – Malik Jackson knows well the opponent.
"They're the gatekeepers," the Jaguars' defensive tackle said Monday.
Jackson was referring to the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, and he was far from alone in acknowledging that the Jaguars' opponent in the AFC Championship Game Sunday is formidable.
Yes, the Jaguars are a victory from the Super Bowl.
But any thought of the Jaguars thinking about the game in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in early February as opposed to the one Sunday was quickly dismissed Monday.
"I'm not jumping the gun now," defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said as the AFC South Champion Jaguars (12-6) prepared to play the AFC East Champion Patriots (14-3) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
"We've got a game in front of us, and they ain't no pushovers. We've got to give our 'A game.' We've got to focus on the task at hand and start thinking about the big man."
The Jaguars, who beat the Buffalo Bills 10-3 in an AFC Wild Card Playoff, advanced to the championship game with a 45-42 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Divisional Playoff at Pittsburgh Sunday. Head Coach Doug Marrone and Jaguars players on Sunday said little about playing beat the Patriots, focusing instead on the victory over Pittsburgh.
The focus began turning to New England Monday.
"They won it last year, and they earned the right for everybody to be on their coattails," Jackson said. "It's going to be up to us to do our due diligence, to go out there and do what they're doing – run the ball and stop them as a defense."
Fans welcomed the Jaguars back to EverBank Field after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It sounds easier than it's probably going to be," he said. "But we're going to go out there and give it our best."
Jaguars players on Monday said the focus now is absolutely on a Patriots team that has made seven consecutive appearances in the conference title game.
"It's not too hard not to look toward the Super Bowl when you see who you're going against," defensive tackle Abry Jones said. "You're going against a team that demands all of your attention. It's nice to look ahead now, but when it's time to work we've got to work."
Also on Monday:
*Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue called Patriots quarterback Tom Brady "the greatest ever to play the game. It's going to be a big week for us. We have to be on our Ps and Qs and everybody has to be melded in together."
*Dareus faced Brady 10 times as a member of the Buffalo Bills from 2011 until this season, registering 2.5 sacks in those meetings. "You've just got to be fundamentally sound," Dareus said of facing the Patriots. "The elite quarterbacks in his league have a competitive spirit. You can hit Brady, but hitting isn't what's going to get to him. It's constantly being that gnat in his face. He hates that gnat, when somebody's always around, on his feet, when offensive linemen are in his face. Sacking doesn't get to him, it's being that gnat. If you sack him, he gets up and keeps rolling. He's like, 'OK, you got me. I'm fixing to go throw this touchdown on the next play.' That's his mentality, his cool. I like it." ...
*Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis on the possibility of cornerback Jalen Ramsey covering Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski Sunday: "Jalen is a freak – tall, rangy, long arms and physical – and can run. It's tough for a tight end, because a lot of us are long striders. When you get a guy disrupting stuff, punching you ad messing up your strides – it can be tough. I don't know what the game plan's going to be, but I wouldn't be surprised. Jalen plays like a chip is on his shoulder, so even if you come off the line and try to do something early, he's probably going to punch you in the mouth right back. It'd be a matchup that'd be interesting. He doesn't shy away from anything." …