Patriots to face Jaguars in divisional round of AFC playoffs

Glen Farley

The team no one wants to play will meet the team no one has been able to beat.

Fresh off their dramatic 31-29 wildcard win at Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the Jacksonville Jaguars are headed to Gillette Stadium to challenge the 16-0 New England Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

San Diego’s 17-6 victory over Tennessee on Sunday gave the Jaguars a ticket to ride to New England for an 8 p.m. start this Saturday. The Chargers will travel to Indianapolis for a 1 p.m. kickoff the following day.

The winners of those two games will advance to play in the AFC Championship Game at the home of the highest remaining seed Jan. 20 at 3 p.m.

“We’re starting from scratch,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during a conference call Sunday night. “It doesn’t make any difference what our record was. It’s irrelevant. It’s down to a one-game season now.”

Although seeded fifth in the six-team AFC field, the Jaguars have been deemed by many to be a dangerous postseason team.

Since absorbing a 41-24 pounding at New Orleans that left them at 5-3 halfway through the regular season, the Jags have gone 7-2 and one of those losses - a 42-28 setback in their regular-season finale at Houston – was nothing more than a glorified exhibition game for them.

“They’ve played great the last half of the year,” Belichick said. “I think you can throw out that Houston game.”

Dating to their 36-14 romp over Buffalo on Nov. 25, more often than not the Jaguars have exceeded 30 points (four out of seven games) and they’ve averaged 33.7 points per game during that time.

Buoyed by a rushing game that placed second in the NFL only to Minnesota’s, the Jaguars’ offense ranked seventh in the league during the regular season.

Fred Taylor carried for 1,202 yards and was capably backed by Maurice Jones-Drew and his 768.

More often than not he missed his mark at Pittsburgh (9-for-21 for 140 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions), but quarterback David Garrard connected at a 64-percent clip (208-for-305) during the regular season when his TDs dwarfed his interceptions by 18-3. Still, the Jaguars' passing offense was no better than 17th in the league.

Even with Garrard struggling, the Jaguars managed to take an 18-point lead into the fourth quarter in Pittsburgh before a frantic Steelers’ rally forced Josh Scobee to convert a 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds to play.

Garrard’s 32-yard run on a fourth-and-two quarterback draw from the Pittsburgh 43 set up the game-winning score in what was Jacksonville’s first postseason victory since 1999.

Ranked 12th in the NFL in total defense during the regular season – 11th versus the run, 15th against the pass – the Jaguars surrendered 340 yards to the Steelers.

“In the end,” Belichick said, “when Jacksonville had to have it, they produced it. … They made the plays you had to make in a close game. That’s why they won.”

While it wasn’t a postseason game, the Patriots’ most recent matchup with the Jaguars was rather significant as well.

With Tom Brady completing 28 of 39 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and sneaking and scrambling his way to 31 yards on 10 carries, the Patriots clinched their fourth (it’s now five) straight AFC East division title and virtually eliminated the Jaguars from playoff contention with a 24-21 victory at Alltel Stadium on Dec. 24, 2006.

With Taylor out with a hamstring injury, Jones-Drew carried the load, accounting for 131 yards (on 19 attempts) and two touchdowns on the ground, 74 coming in the second quarter when he ran into tight end Kyle Brady (now with the Patriots), fell to the ground, regained his feet and went the distance. Garrard connected on 17 of 23 passes for 195 yards and one TD with no interceptions in the game.

“I think it’s a different team than the one we played down there last year, starting with Fred Taylor,” Belichick said. “We didn’t see him last year. That’s not to take anything away from Jones-Drew. We had trouble with him, too.”

The two teams have some postseason history, having met three times in the playoffs with New England winning twice, the most recent decision being a 28-3 romp at Gillette on Jan. 7, 2006. Outside linebacker Willie McGinest set an NFL single-game playoff record in that one by getting to Byron Leftwich and Garrard for 4.5 sacks.

The Enterprise