Forget about the unimpressive stats. Forget that New England's top two rushers don't total a thousand yards, or that the Patriots hold only minor advantages over their opponents in most statistical categories. Don't concern yourself with the fact that Houston took the Patriots into overtime three weeks ago.
Yeah, statistically, the Patriots don't look like an 11-2 team. But they are an 11-2 team, and they are on a nine-game winning streak, and they very well may be the best team in the league. They are all of those things because they are a team of singular purpose, and because they have a quarterback who knows how to win.
Tom Brady is 7-0 in overtime games, which makes him the greatest overtime quarterback in NFL history; two wins better than Terry Bradshaw's 5-0. Brady's stats may also strike you as being somewhat unimpressive, but the guy wins. In fact, the Patriots didn't start winning until he took over for Drew Bledsoe.
So, yeah, forget about the stats. The Patriots don't win with stats; they win with Brady. But that's where the Patriots could have the biggest problem of all. Look at their depth chart at quarterback. After Brady there's Damon Huard and Rohan Davey. Huard hasn't thrown a pass this season and Davey's thrown only seven. In other words, if anything happens to Brady, the Pats are dead. And remember the 2001 AFC title game, when Brady got hurt and Bledsoe came off the bench to win the game?
Forget about the stats. They're not an issue for this team. The Patriots aren't a stats team. They're a Tom Brady team, and they better not lose him.
Here's 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Patriots.
- Know what they represent—The Patriots are the cream of the AFC crop; not just for this year but probably for the next few years. Coach Bill Belichick has done a masterful job of acquiring extra draft picks and posturing this team for its future. It has a nucleus of star players, a good mix of veterans and young players, a healthy salary cap situation and a great draft future. And some would say Belichick is the best coach in the game today.
- Be ready to play their game—The Patriots' game is attack defense, big-play offense and special teams, and an overall physical style of play that's driven by an intense energy level. To have any chance of beating the Patriots, the Jaguars must be the equal of the Patriots in each of those areas.
- Focus on stopping Brady—What the Patriots don't do very well is run the ball, which is odd. Usually teams that stop the run are also able to run the ball, and vice versa, but the Patriots are one of the league's best at stopping the run and one of the league's worst at running it. That means they lean extra hard on Brady. To stop the Patriots, you must first stop Brady.
- Win the battle of the hitting—Belichick's teams hit. The Patriots are a punch-you-in-the-nose kind of team and the Jaguars would do well to deliver the first "punch."
- Make this your playoff game—All of the ingredients are there to give this game a playoff feeling: a December game in the frosty Northeast, with the Patriots playing for a division title and homefield advantage in the playoffs. The Jaguars would do well to feed off the Patriots' energy. For a team that wants to believe it will be a playoff contender next season, this should provide a needed tease.
- Keep an eye on the future—That's what the remainder of this season is about. The Jaguars have nine players in their starting lineup who are in the first three years of their NFL careers. They represent the nucleus of this team and this game will give us an idea of how good that nucleus is.
- Run the ball—The Patriots may not have much of a running game, but the Jaguars do and it would be real, real big if the Jaguars were able to push back the Patriots' stout run-defense. Remember this: Power defenses rely on and draw their energy from stopping the run.
- Kick it out of bounds—The Patriots have sensational kick-return units. The Jaguars have made gains on their coverage units, but not to the Patriots' level. Challenging the Patriots would be a mistake.
- Pack the earmuffs—The Jaguars were all set to bring their cold-weather gear to New York for the Nov. 23 game against the Jets, then the temperatures went into the 60's. Not this time, right? New England in December? Be ready to play in the cold.
- Watch lots of tape—Belichick and his staff are flat out-coaching their opponents. If you're going to hold your own against these guys, you better spend lots of time watching tape and devising strategy.