The last two weeks have brought hype and anticipation to Foxborough, with many believing the two best teams in the NFL would be facing off at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots hosted the Texans and 49ers and the matchups that made fans and players snap to attention.
This week? The Jaguars.
Jacksonville doesn’t bring the same excitement, the same frantic expectations. The host Jaguars are 2-12 and in last place in the AFC South. As Bill Belichick put it diplomatically, “very competitive team in spite of their record.”
Belichick said an opponent’s record doesn’t affect his preparations.
“We don’t talk a lot about records,” Belichick said. “We just don’t do it — we didn’t talk about Houston’s record or San Francisco’s record or Jacksonville’s record.’’
“What we do is we look at our opponent and try to analyze their strengths and the things that we have to do to be competitive against them and the areas of weakness that we feel like we can attack.’’
Still, it will be difficult for the Patriots not to look at the Jaguars as just another team to roll over on their way to the playoffs, despite Sunday’s loss. The Patriots have never lost to the Jaguars, and it doesn’t seem like this version is likely to change that.
But that can’t be the Patriots’ focus.
“It’s how we match up against them,” Belichick said. “All our preparation and focus will be on what Jacksonville does well, what we need to stop and where we think we may be able to gain some advantage or have opportunities and how we can hopefully exploit those.
“That’s really the way we approach every game. What the team’s record is isn’t really very important because the most important game that we’re going to play hasn’t happened yet.”
The Patriots still have a spot open on their roster after waiving Visanthe Shiancoe last week and placing Donte’ Stallworth on injured reserve and signing only Deion Branch. That spot might not be filled by Sunday’s game.
Jermaine Cunningham is eligible to return from his four-game suspension after Sunday’s game, so the Patriots might leave it open.
“We’ve had a couple of preliminary thoughts on it but nothing definitive,” Belichick said of his conversations with Nick Caserio. “We’re both doing a little research and thinking and trying to see where some of our players are relative to their availability this week.
“We have to inactive seven players anyway, so signing a player at that position to then have to inactivate him, the gain on that is marginal.’’
Can MoJo go?
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been out for eight consecutive games with a foot injury, but Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey called him questionable for Sunday. A decision will be made as the week progresses.
“We definitely have to be prepared for him to play,” Belichick said. “I think we all know what type of back he is. I’d say it would probably be good if he waited one more week. I’m sure he could use another few days of rest before he comes back.”
Belichick praised Jones-Drew’s “speed, balance, strength,” though he said that even if Jones-Drew doesn’t return for the game, the Jaguars have a very capable backup in Rashad Jennings.
Sense of normalcy
Belichick said it was good for the team to get back to a normal week, with games on consecutive Sundays for the first time in a month. The last time that happened was Nov. 11 and 18, when the Patriots played the Bills and Colts in Foxborough . . . Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels addressed ball security. “If we’re being careless and the carelessness is repetitive and the ball is obviously not protected, we need to address that as a group; we need to address that and make sure that we fix it so that we don’t hurt our team. But in terms of a particular game or a specific, ‘How many times does the ball need to be away from a player’s body’ or ‘how many throws does the quarterback make that the defense touches [him] before you get him out of the game,’ I’ve never really had a specific chart or philosophy on that.” . . . Jim Whalen, 69, who played tight end for the Patriots from 1965-69 and was a first-team All-Pro in 1968, died at his home in Gloucester.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.