JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Sunday
The road awaits.
Actually, the road is doing more than awaiting the Jaguars right now. What long has loomed on the schedule is now at hand – and three road games in as many weeks hardly is an easy hand.
That's what faces the Jaguars next: a three-game stretch at defending Super Bowl champion New England, at defending AFC South champion Indianapolis and at Tampa Bay.
The positive for the Jaguars? They enter the swing with the momentum of a 23-20 victory Sunday at EverBank Field, an emotional victory and perhaps the biggest victory in three seasons with Gus Bradley as head coach and David Caldwell as general manager.
The Jaguars, after making too many mistakes in a season-opening home loss to Carolina, played a far cleaner game against the Dolphins. They did not commit a turnover or allow a sack, taking a 20-13 lead and winning after rookie Jason Myers kicked a 28-yard field goal with :40 remaining.
The Jaguars' defense did not allow a score after Miami scored a touchdown on the first drive of the second half.
The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions and show no signs of decline.
Tom Brady, one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks, remains in his prime and with the exception of Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay is perhaps the best active player at the position. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has a remarkable 58 touchdown receptions in six NFL seasons, a total that includes four in two games this season.
Gronkowski has 12 receptions for 207 yards this season and Brady has seven touchdowns with 754 yards passing in two games.
The Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 28-21, in the regular-season opener, and then beat AFC East rival Buffalo, 40-32. New England led comfortably in each game before holding on for the victories.
Three matchups to watch
*Jaguars defense versus Brady.Really? The whole defense against one player? While that's simplistic, it has an overtone of truth. The Patriots' offense – Brady in particular – plays as intelligently and as quickly as any unit in the NFL. The Patriots tax you mentally and physically and it takes every player playing at a high level mentally and physically to stay in the game against New England. That's particularly true in Foxboro. The Jaguars will need to pressure Brady and force turnovers to have a chance. That's doable, but it's difficult.
*Jaguars safety Sergio Brown/James Sample/Johnathan Cyprien versus Gronkowski.Three safeties are listed for a couple of reasons. One is the status of Cyprien – the Jaguars' strong safety – isn't yet known. Another is that a combination of all Jaguars safeties – not to mention linebackers and the occasional corner – likely will defend Gronkowski. Gronkowski's mixture of size/athleticism makes him one of the NFL's toughest matchup problems. The Jaguars have had issues covering tight ends in recent seasons, and allowed a short touchdown to Miami tight end Jake Stoneburner Sunday.
*Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles versus Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick.This also could be written as Bortles' versus the Patriot Way. New England is well-known under Belichick for confusing young quarterbacks and taking away an offense's best option. Bortles will see things he never has seen and he will have to make in-game and in-play adjustments he never has made. It's a big challenge for a young player – one of the biggest in football.
Jaguars to watch
*Bortles, quarterback.Bortles played the best game of his NFL career Sunday in his 15th career start, throwing two touchdowns with no interceptions. The task will be far more difficult in Foxboro Sunday.
*Allen Robinson, wide receiver.A big reason Bortles had his best game? Robinson did, too. The second-year veteran caught six passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He won 50-50 balls and showed the ability to get open deep. He played like a No. 1 receiver, something he needs to do consistently for a young, improving offense.
*LB Paul Posluszny, DE Jared Odrick and LB Dan Skuta.This is a roundabout way of discussing the Jaguars' veteran leadership on defense. Posluszny, Odrick and Skuta represent much of that leadership, and have played well thus far this season – as evidenced in part by their performance against Miami. As is the case with Bortles on offense, the Jaguars' defense will be tested mentally by New England's offense. The Patriots are among the league's best at creating favorable matchups and they run their offense quickly enough there's often little time to think. The savvy veterans must play that way.
Keep an eye on …
*Running back Denard Robinson sustained a sprained knee Sunday and is considered week-to-week. He has backed up starter T.J. Yeldon the first two games, and his absence could mean larger roles for Bernard Pierce and Corey Grant. …
*The status of cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle) is expected to be updated Wednesday. He missed Sunday after being injured in practice last week. …
*Safety Johnathan Cyprien (calf/finger) missed Sunday's game, with his status expected to be updated on Wednesday. …
*Wide receiver Rashad Greene sustained a thumb injury Sunday with an update on his status expected Wednesday. …
*Cornerback Davon House and cornerback Aaron Colvin are expected to practice Wednesday. House left Sunday's game at halftime and spent the night in the hospital after playing through chest congestion in the first half. Colvin left Sunday's game with cramping, but returned for the final series. …
*Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee) and tight end Julius Thomas (hand), each of whom missed the first two regular-season games, are expected to practice limited this week. Each worked limited last week before being declared inactive on Friday. Defensive end Andre Branch also is expected to remain out this week with a knee injury that has kept him out of the first two regular-season games. …
*Running back Toby Gerhart (abdomen) is expected to return to practice on a limited basis this week.
*Rookie wide receiver Rashad Greene has been placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list after undergoing thumb surgery Tuesday. He sustained the injury Sunday. Wide receiver Bryan Walters was signed Tuesday afternoon after being released Saturday to make room on the 53-man roster for cornerback Peyton Thompson.