There are convenient half-truths, little white lies, full-fledged fabrications, and then there is the Cirque du Soleil truth-bending that football coaches engage in when they’re facing a hopelessly overmatched opponent.
Almost all football coaches make said opponent sound as if its being quarterbacked by Joe Montana, coached by Paul Brown, and trotting out the Steel Curtain on defense. Like almost anything football coaches do, Patriots coach Bill Belichick does prevarication better than most.
There were a lot of football fibs being told in Foxborough this past week to get the Patriots properly focused to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, a doormat the Patriots will walk all over on Sunday at EverBank Field. Belichick made the 2-12 Jaguars sound like they were a few plays away from being the 1972 Miami Dolphins, instead of a team that is in a race with the Kansas City Chiefs for the league’s worst record.
The scouting report he handed his players was probably redacted like a CIA document. Belichick doesn’t want his team to lose focus or interest in these lackluster final two games of the regular season. Without an actual formidable opponent to play, he has created one.
Playing a hapless team such as Jacksonville is a trip for no gain for the Patriots. They can only lose — playoff position, focus, momentum, and healthy players.
We waited all year for the meaty part of the Patriots’ schedule — those back-to-back games against the Texans and 49ers — and now we’re left with nothing but table scraps in Jacksonville and Miami.
The matchup Sunday against Tim Tebow’s future team is one of those times you wish life had a DVR and you could hit fast forward to learn whether the Patriots have a championship defense or whether the running game was a regular-season mirage.
The last two times the Patriots have played in Jacksonville the games have had far more gridiron gravitas. Jacksonville’s stadium is the site of the Patriots’ last Super Bowl victory, a 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in February 2005. In 2006, New England clinched the AFC East title with a 24-21 win over the Jaguars.
This game has considerably less appeal.
The Jaguars are going out Sunday with a Whimper, not a bang. The Florida Times-Union reported that Jaguars are going to start a player named Guy Whimper at right tackle against the Patriots. Whimper hasn’t started since Week 3, when the Jaguars picked up the first of their two wins.
Jacksonville has a minus-164 point differential, only the Chiefs are worse at minus-172. The Jaguars are 31st in the NFL in total offense and 31st in total defense. They’re dead last in the NFL in rushing defense (148.1 yards per game), the perfect cure for Stevan Ridley’s fumble-itis.
The Jaguars have scored 22 touchdowns this season. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has accounted for 34 touchdowns this season by himself, 30 throwing and four more on the ground. Stellar Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew will miss his ninth straight game with a left foot injury. He hasn’t played since Oct. 21 and is still the Jaguars’ leading rusher with 414 yards.
Here is a pertinent stat that was probably omitted from the Jacksonville breakdown Patriots players received: The Jaguars are 0-11 this year when allowing 20 or more points. The Patriots lead the league in points per game at 36.1 and hung 31 in one half on a 49ers’ defense that’s stingier with progress than House Republicans.
More condemning than any stat for coach Mike Mularkey’s bunch is that two weeks ago they lost to a Jets team that was quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez.
None of these facts stopped Belichick from touting the Jaguars as a formidable obstacle on the Patriots’ path to the playoffs.
“I don’t think records really mean anything,” said Belichick. “We lost to a team that [has] lost nine straight games this year [Arizona], so that’s not something we need to worry about, anybody else’s record. Just go out there and try to play competitively on Sunday no matter who the team is. Every team in this league is good.”
That sound you hear is an exploding polygraph machine.
Much has been made of the Jaguars pushing the Texans, the current No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, to overtime in Week 11 in a 43-37 thriller. You haven’t heard much about how Chad Henne in that epic performance completed 48.5 percent of his passes.
Belichick made Henne sound like a cross between Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
“With Henne, you really have to defend everything,” Belichick said. “You have to defend all the receivers, you have to defend the short balls, you have to defend the play-action, the deep balls, a little bit of scrambling. I think he does a pretty good job at everything.”
Henne has had some of the best games against the Patriots. He beat them in 2009 in Miami by throwing the ball 52 times, completing 29 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Last season, he hung 419 yards on the Patriots in their season opener.
But that is still high praise for a quarterback with a 51.9 percent completion percentage for the season and a 48.7 percent completion percentage and one touchdown pass in his last three games.
Those numbers are not all Henne’s fault. The last time the Jaguars didn’t allow a sack was Oct. 3, 2010, against Indianapolis.
I’m pretty sure the Patriots weren’t told that in team meetings.
“They’re a very good, competitive football team that works hard, makes you earn what you get,” said Belichick. “We’re going to have to do a good job down there to come up with anything.”
Belichick’s former boss, Duane Charles Parcells, had it right, “You are what your record says you are.”
The Jaguars’ record says they’re fluent in futility. That record speaks the truth.