On paper, it appears the Jaguars are headed toward the same type of game they played in New England two years ago, when Tom Brady completed 26 of 28 passes to lead the Patriots to a 31-20, divisional-round playoff win. Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, however, says neither the Patriots nor the Jaguars are the same.
"He's a special guy and they had a special team," Mathis said of Brady and the 2007 Patriots that took an 18-0 record into that season's Super Bowl, "but it's not the same team."
Brady is still the quarterback and Randy Moss is still Brady's big-play receiver, but neither player is performing at his '07 level. Brady is in his comeback year from knee reconstruction. Moss was recently accused of "quitting" by the Carolina Panthers.
Much about the Patriots is the same but different. Bill Belichick is still their coach but, for the first time, his penchant for fourth-down gambles backfired this year, causing what might be the most embarrassing moment of his coaching career in a come-from-ahead loss in Indianapolis.
Who are these Patriots? Are they the Patriots of three Super Bowl titles in four years, or is this a faded image of those teams? Are they a team in decline or a team in late-season ascent attempting to make one more run at a Super Bowl title?
Here's what we know for sure about Brady and the Patriots: "If you give him time, he can pick you apart," Mathis said. Therein lies the Jaguars' great disadvantage for this game: They've been giving everybody time to throw.
The Jaguars have been last in the league in sacks all season long. In a 35-31 loss to the Colts, they barely got a hand on Peyton Manning.
Brady is still the name of the Patriots' game. He'll almost certainly top the 4,000-yard mark for the season on Sunday and the Patriots are number four in the league in pass-offense and number two in overall offense. If the Jaguars are unable to hurry his throws, he'll likely pick the Jags apart.
"Hopefully, we can get that pass-rush and can have better coverage," Mathis said, using the '07 playoff game as a reference. The Jaguars got very little rush on Brady in that game and Brady was content to march the ball down the field with short passes.
"He takes what you give him," Mathis said.
This is a high-stakes game for both teams. The Patriots can clinch the AFC East Division title with a win. The Jaguars need a win to stay in the wild-card race.
"It does feel like we're going into the playoffs," quarterback David Garrard said. "If we don't think that way, we're going to have a tough time capturing these games."
The Jaguars will conclude their regular season on Jan. 3 in Cleveland, in what is expected to be the second of a two-fall bout with winter.
"We've been known to play well in the cold," Mathis said.
"Just to play meaningful games in December means a lot. To go up there and to have a must-win game, it's a fun challenge for us. Fred added a little fuel to the fire, which is good," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said, referring to salty comments former Jaguars star Fred Taylor made this week.
Taylor is attempting to recover from a foot injury that has kept him out of action since week four. He told reporters this week he would be "questionable" to play in Sunday's game.