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Marrone: "An unbelievable challenge"


JACKSONVILLE – He's a worrier by nature. Doug Marrone made that clear Wednesday.

One thing not concerning their head coach as the Jaguars prepare for their first AFC Championship Game in nearly two decades:

Being heavy underdogs to the defending Super Bowl champions.

"When you play against New England, who hasn't been underdogs?" Marrone said as the AFC South Champion Jaguars (12-6) prepared to play the AFC East Champion New England Patriots (14-3) in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Sunday at 3:05 p.m.

"Everybody should [be underdogs against the Patriots]. They're the team you have to beat."

Marrone praised the Patriots throughout his 20-minute meeting with the media Wednesday, calling them an "outstanding football team."

"This team, outside of the New York Yankees, is probably the best dynasty that we've seen," Marrone said. "I don't think I can come in here and give you guys any, 'Hey, if you do this you have a chance … if you do this you have a chance.' You have to go and you have to execute. You're talking about a team that's probably the best execution team performance-wise on Sunday since 2001.

"It's going to come down to how we play on Sunday. We're going to have to play extremely well. It's going to be an unbelievable challenge for us."

The Patriots have made seven Super Bowls since 2001, with Bill Belichick the head coach and Tom Brady the quarterback for each of the past 17 seasons. They have won five Super Bowls during that span, appearing in the last six consecutive AFC Championship Games.

"I've seen people do a lot of different things and not really have a lot of success," Marrone said of facing Brady.

Also on Wednesday:

*Marrone reiterated what he said Monday – that there may not be an effective way to shut down Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, widely considered one of the best players at his position in NFL history. "I still feel the same way," Marrone said, adding of how to defend Gronkowski: "Hope they don't throw him the football … hope he drops it. There's no secret formula. I'd like to watch a game where someone has been able to do it. He's going to make his plays, and you hope those plays don't wind up killing you." Marrone added: "He gets better and better. He becomes tougher and tougher and able to do more things. He's an elite player." …

*Marrone on the Patriots' offense: "I don't know that you present a lot of issues for them. It's going to be such a great challenge for us, because it's not like there's one person you have to stop. All of their skill players are all good enough to win and beat you and it's just a matter of what they like matchup-wise. You can't say, 'Listen, we'll take this person out.' Everyone who's on that football field knows exactly what to do and is totally trusted and you can see that when they play. It's just a matter of what they see is their [best] matchup." …

*Marrone on facing the Patriots: "You've got to know what you are, what you're able to do. It's a great challenge." …

*Marrone discussed Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, saying his athleticism could allow him to play safety, linebacker or even defensive end. Asked where Ramsey has grown since being drafted No. 5 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, Marrone said, "He was pretty darned good when he first came in. Everyone out there can see the talent, but I don't think what everyone sees is how hard he works at the game, how much he studies the opponent … "

*Free safety Tashaun Gipson was the lone player listed as not expected to practice on the Jaguars' pre-practice injury report Wednesday. He left the Divisional Playoff victory over Pittsburgh with a second-half foot injury and did not return.

*Players listed on the pre-practice injury report as expected to practice were quarterback Blake Bortles (right wrist), wide receiver Marqise Lee (foot), cornerback Jalen Ramsey (ankle), running back Leonard Fournette (ankle), strong safety Barry Church (shoulder), middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (abdomen), wide receiver Jaydon Mickens (hamstring), tight end Marcedes Lewis (ankle) and defensive tackle Malik Jackson (ankle). Bortles has been listed with the injury throughout the entire season, and has not missed a practice or game. …

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