JACKSONVILLE – Doug Marrone made his point clear:
The AFC Championship Game will be difficult in every way – from opponent, to opposing quarterback, to venue.* *
Marrone, the Jaguars' head coach, on Monday addressed the quarterback issue first – and when asked about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, his answer was simple and direct.
"He's very difficult to beat," Marrone said as the AFC South Champion Jaguars (12-6) began preparing to play the AFC East and defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots (14-3) in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Sunday at 3 p.m.
The Patriots have played in the AFC Championship Game the last six seasons, winning it three times and winning the Super Bowl two of the past three seasons. They have played the title game in Foxboro four times in six seasons, with the only loss in Foxboro coming to the Baltimore Ravens – 28-13 – in the title game following the 2012 season.
The Patriots have played in 11 AFC Championship Games under Head Coach Bill Belichick and with Brady. They are 7-4 in the game.
"One time someone said, 'What's the toughest place to play?' I said, 'Gillette Stadium in New England,''' said Marrone, who coached at Gillette twice as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2013-2014. "They go, 'C'mon?' I said, 'What do you mean? Look at their record.' It's the most difficult place I've ever played."
The Jaguars have played in three AFC Championship Games, losing in New England (20-6) following the 1996 season and losing to the Tennessee Titans (33-14) at home following the 1999 season. This is their first postseason appearance since 2007.
The Patriots have made the postseason 16 of the past 17 seasons.
Also on Monday:
*Marrone on defending Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski: "I don't know if you can." Asked why, "Size. Catch radius. Everything you see on tape. It's a challenge. I don't know that anyone's figured it out yet. He's outstanding in that position and he's really been productive. He's going to go down as one of the best tight ends who's ever played." Gronkowski caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Asked if cornerback Jalen Ramsey could potentially matchup with Gronkowski, Marrone said, "I don't know. I've never seen him on him. I haven't looked at that yet.''
*Marrone discussed the status of free safety Tashaun Gipson, who left Sunday's victory over Pittsburgh in the second half with a foot injury and did not return. "Within the next 48 hours, seeing how things turn out, we'll see how it goes," Marrone said. "You are playing in the conference championship. My experience has been pretty much everybody is fighting to get back. We'll see how that week goes with him." Jarrod Wilson finished the game in Gipson's place. "He's done that a couple of times this year, and no one's really noticed it," Marrone said of Wilson. "We feel very comfortable with him being out there. He's done a nice job." …
*Marrone on the Jaguars' poise in big situations: "They play for each other. The coaches and players do a good job of being focused on the sidelines. One thing I'll say about this team is they're pretty close and that's one of the things you need to be successful." …
*Marrone on 10,000 fans greeting the Jaguars at EverBank Field after the 45-42 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Divisional Playoff Sunday: "It was cool. For me, it's hard to enjoy. If you win a game, after the game is over in my mind it's, 'How could we have done a better job?' – and it's on to the next opponent. In this profession it's very hard to enjoy those things. But I do find a lot of joy for myself when I see other people happy with the success – the players, but especially the fans." …
*Marrone on Ramsey telling the crowd Sunday the Jaguars were going to the Super Bowl and that they were going to win it: "You've got all the fans here, and obviously that's something they want to do when you get this close. Whether you have to say it not … One thing I do is the road to it always leads through New England. Our focus isn't on anything else but the New England Patriots. It will be a great challenge for us, obviously." …