The Jaguars' playoff hopes are in the hands of Santa Claus following Sunday's 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots. The Jaguars are clearly going to need some gifts to qualify for this year's postseason.
"Until I'm told we're out, I'm going to keep hope alive. We were in control of our own destiny and now we'll need some help," coach Jack Del Rio said following the defeat.
The Jaguars, 8-7, will go to Kansas City still in playoff contention, but they'll need a victory over the Chiefs and losses by other AFC wild-card contenders. The exact circumstances the Jaguars require to make it into the playoffs won't be known until after the Jets' game against Miami on Christmas night. Six teams remain alive in the AFC wild-card race: The Bengals, Broncos, Chiefs, Jaguars, Jets and Titans.
"We're very disappointed right now. In many respects, this is similar to how the season has gone. We've been close but not good enough," Del Rio said, referring to the loss to the Patriots.
The Patriots appeared to have clinched the win with a 27-yard touchdown run by Laurence Maroney with 4:36 to play, but David Garrard drove the Jaguars right down the field and cut the deficit to three points with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Matt Jones with 3:03 to play.
When the Jaguars forced the Patriots into their first three-and-out of the day, the Jags had the ball at their 45-yard line with 1:55 left in the game. All of a sudden, the Jaguars had every reason to believe they could win. Just as quickly, however, the Patriots clinched victory when Garrard fumbled on the next play and Rodney Harrison recovered for the Pats.
Garrard was scrambling out of the pocket when defensive lineman Jarvis Green knocked the ball out of Garrard's right hand. Replay made it appear as though Garrard's right hand was moving forward when he lost the ball, which would've constituted an incomplete pass, but referee Walt Anderson supported the initial ruling.
"I saw the guys out there and I just wanted to drop it off. When the guy hit me, it did feel like my arm was going forward. You need to have two hands on the ball if you are scrambling through the pocket, but I was attempting a pass. That's why there was only one hand on the ball," Garrard said.
"They got the play at the end and we didn't," Del Rio said.
Garrard had a good game statistically – 17 of 23 for 195 yards, one touchdown and a 113.5 passer rating – but his game-deciding fumble came on the heels of a four-turnover event the previous Sunday, likely causing more criticism of the Jaguars quarterback.
"I remain confident David can lead us to victory. We've won with David. We haven't won as much as I'd like but he's a good football player. He has some talent. He has some ability. He's going to develop over time," Del Rio said.
When asked if he thinks Garrard tries to do too much, Del Rio added: "Yes, I do think that."
The Jaguars game plan was to stick to its running game and force Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to throw short passes. The problem was that the Jaguars running game was only a factor on one play, and Brady was able to make enough plays in the short-passing game to grab the win. The clincher for the Patriots was their ability to run the ball. They rushed for 117 yards and scored the game-winner on Maroney's 27-yard breakaway.
"We wanted to be patient and run the football and not get chased out of the run. We let that happen in the playoff game (last season). We did not let that happen today," Del Rio said.
Rookie Maurice Jones-Drew provided a 74-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Jaguars a 7-3 lead. Jones-Drew was knocked to the ground at the line of scrimmage but got up and ran through the arms of a Patriots defender who mistakenly thought the play had been whistled dead. Pats coach Bill Belichick "challenged" the call but replay upheld the touchdown ruling.
Brady nibbled at the Jaguars pass-defense with short pass after short pass. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 249 yards, one touchdown and a 97.1 passer rating.
The win clinched the AFC East title for the Patriots, 11-4. Their previous win in Jacksonville was in Super Bowl XXXIX.
"We are pretty good when we don't beat ourselves. We are one of six teams in the AFC and I always like our chances," Brady said.
Brady was knocked out of the game following a vicious blow to the back of his head by linebacker Clint Ingram in the fourth quarter. Brady missed one play and then returned to throw an 18-yard pass to Daniel Graham that preceded Maroney's run.
The Patriots had taken a 17-7 lead on a 22-yard pass from Brady to tight end David Thomas, who made a diving end-zone grab that Del Rio "challenged" unsuccessfully.
It appeared Brady was going to put the game out of reach later in the third quarter, but a false-start penalty and an incomplete pass led to a missed field-goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski, and the Jaguars rallied on a 41-yard pass from Garrard to Ernest Wilford and a one-yard touchdown run by Jones-Drew.