They were two drops that canceled the Jaguars' destiny. That's how I'll always remember the Jaguars' loss to the Patriots in the 2007 playoffs.
David Garrard was playing the game of his life when he and the Jaguars' Super Bowl hopes were betrayed by passes that should've been caught for touchdowns but were dropped. I can see those two plays as though they were yesterday, Dennis Northcutt dropping a perfectly-thrown pass over the middle near the goal line at the end of Gillette Stadium opposite the press box. Shortly after, Matt Jones stone-handed a perfect lob in the back-left corner of the end zone at the press box end of the stadium.
That was it. No chance of winning against an undefeated team on its home turf and with Tom Brady at quarterback when you drop two would-be touchdown passes. Not even Johnny Unitas could overcome that adversity.
I've always wondered if Jaguars fans really appreciate how hot that '07 team was at that point in the season and how close it came to going to the Super Bowl. If Northcutt and Jones catch those balls, Garrard would've thrown for well over 300 yards, four touchdowns and a passer rating well into triple figures. There would've been no interception at desperation time because the Jaguars would've been running the ball to kill the clock on a victory that would've ended the Patriots' quest of an undefeated season.
Had Northcutt and Jones caught those balls, the Jaguars would've played in the AFC title game in San Diego the following week against a Chargers team the Jags had already beaten, and which would have had a gimpy Philip Rivers and an out-of-action LaDainian Tomlinson.
"It was a great game, a hard-fought game. It was a pretty night; it wasn't too cold," Garrard said as he turned the pages of his memory this week. "Tom (Brady) was on point that night."
Brady completed 26 of 28 passes. What people forget is that, at halftime, Garrard was 12 of 14 for 149 yards, two touchdowns and a 150.6 passer rating, compared to Brady's 12 of 12 for 120, one touchdown and 136.1 passer rating. Garrard was outplaying Brady, and then the drops came. Game over!
Yes, quarterbacks are defined by winning. We know that because Garrard never got his due for the skill with which he performed on that night at Gillette Stadium.
Some will view this Sunday's game as a rematch of those '07 teams and quarterbacks but, clearly, much is different for both teams. Brady is in his ACL comeback year and is not the same player he was that night two years ago. The Patriots aren't the dominant team they were then, either, and most of the cast from that '07 Jaguars team has been cleared out by a youth movement.
Garrard, however, remains the same. He's on top of his game and he's the Jaguars' best hope for victory on Sunday.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Patriots
- Score in the fourth quarter—The Jaguars haven't done that since rallying to beat Buffalo on Nov. 22.
- Tackle—If the Jaguars play the same defensive strategy they did two years ago, which is to say a bend-but-don't-break style, then yards after the catch must be eliminated.
- Stop the run—You have to at least be able to do that if you can't rush the passer.
- Run the ball—The Patriots are just average against the run and Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are banged up.
- Win at quarterback—In today's game, the best quarterback usually wins. Garrard must outplay Brady.
- Get in his head—Randy Moss has been in a funk.
- Cover kicks—Touchdown returns are not
- acceptable and Wes Welker is one of the game's best punt-returners. Win at kicker—On a cold, wet day in December, the kicking game takes on special importance. Josh Scobee must match Stephen Gostkowski kick for kick.
- Take a peek at the scoreboard—Baltimore is playing a one o'clock game in Pittsburgh. A little motivation wouldn't hurt.
- Prepare for the worst—The weather forecast is dicey. It may rain, sleet or snow. Whatever the case, it won't be nice.