Jim McBride’s review of the highs, lows, and everything in between in the Patriots’ 31-20 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday.
BEST TOM BRADY IMPERSONATION
The much-maligned Jaguars quarterback was a maestro, particularly in the first half. He was a field general in every sense of the word. Often the knock on Bortles is his accuracy (or alleged lack thereof), but he led his receivers expertly and fit the ball into some ridiculously tight windows, placing it only where his guy had a chance of snagging it.
Bortles had some help, too. Donte Moncrief (4-yarder) and Keelan Cole (24-yarder) caught touchdown passes despite pretty darn good coverage. Moncrief’s was particularly impressive as he kept his concentration despite being draped by Stephon Gilmore.
“Yeah, he made a great throw, back shoulder,’’ said Gilmore. “Sometimes they make those throws. Learn from it and keep pushing.’’
Bortles finished 29 of 45 for 377 yards and 4 touchdowns. He chipped in with another 35 rushing yards.
The second-year receiver out of that football hotbed Kentucky Wesleyan was a one-man wrecking crew on the Jaguars’ second scoring drive. First, he made like Odell Beckham Jr. with a filthy, highlight-reel 22-yard catch. Then, he made like Bo Jackson by running up the tunnel following his touchdown catch, flipping the ball into the stands for good measure.
“Catches like that . . . crazy catches, you can’t do much,’’ said Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe. “I felt like I had good position on him, I turned to look for the ball and he was already behind us. It was just one of those plays that you know, he got that one.’’
New England won the coin toss and uncharacteristically chose to take the ball. They had a promising drive going, but it stalled after Tom Brady couldn’t connect with Rob Gronkowski (he was held by Telvin Smith) or Chris Hogan. The drive was capped by Stephen Gostkowski’s 54-yard field goal attempt that sailed way right.
“You’ve got to deal with it, you’ve got learn how to get off it,’’ said Gronkowski, asked about the non-call. “That’s another thing I have to learn to deal with.’’
After Stephen Gostkowski’s miss, Blake Bortles marched his club 56 yards in nine plays, hitting Donte Moncrief for the touchdown. After a three-and-out, Bortles engineered a seven-play, 84-yard drive capped by another touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead.
“Fast starts are huge in this league,’’ said Rob Gronkowski. “So, we’ve got to come out prepared. Well prepared.’’
THE THIRD DEGREE
The Jaguars were outstanding on third down, converting 10 of 14. Blake Bortles was at his best when the heat was on. He made timely passes and terrific scrambles on third down to keep drives alive.
Bortles converted a third and 8 with 3:07 left on a 10-yard run. After being tackled by Jonathan Jones, Bortles popped up and spun the football like a top in celebration. Call it his signature moment of the game.
The Patriots, by contrast, were miserable on third down, converting just 4 of 12.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“An old-fashioned butt whupping. Didn’t do anything well. We couldn’t do anything. When we watch the film I don’t think it’ll be like guys weren’t playing hard. We just didn’t play well enough. Every time we were close they were a little better.’’
After the Patriots had trimmed the deficit to 24-13 in the first minute of the fourth quarter, it felt like the tide was turning, and the loud “DUUVAL” chants were quieting to a whisper.
You could hear a pin drop when Kyle Van Noy intercepted Blake Bortles two plays later, setting the Patriots up at the Jacksonville 25. Three plays later, however, Tom Brady was strip-sacked by Dante Fowler, who recovered the ball. The roars then returned.
Still staring at an 11-point deficit with 8:01 left, New England decided to punt rather than try a sneak on fourth and 1 at their 18. Ryan Allen belted a 59-yard punt, but Jaydon Mickens’s 16-yard return put the ball at the Jacksonville 39.
One player later, Blake Bortles hit Dede Westbrook for a 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown that effectively sealed the game with 7:35 left. The roars were deafening.
BEST COVERAGE PLAN
When Rob Gronkowski caught a 9-yard pass from Tom Brady on the first play of the game, it felt like the big tight end might be in for a big day.
It was not a harbinger.
Gronkowski only had one more catch (for 6 yards) the rest of the afternoon as the Jaguars used everyone and anyone to blanket him.
“They did a good job overall,’’ said Gronkowski. “Just got to watch the film. They’ve got good players. I have to play better. They did a good job.’’
Despite holding the lead from their first possession on, coach Doug Marrone never veered from his aggressive game plan.
Marrone had Blake Bortles throwing after all three of New England’s scores in the second half, staying in attack mode rather than nursing the lead.
Even leading, 31-13, with 1:11 left in game, Bortles hit Corey Grant with a 5-yard pass before taking a knee to end the game.
SILVER LINING PLAYERS
Stephon Gilmore was outstanding. The cornerback had excellent coverage all day while also providing solid run support. He finished with 5 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and a forced fumble.
Perhaps his best stretch came midway through the fourth quarter. With the Patriots still clinging to hope (though trailing, 24-13), Gilmore provided a huge lift. First, he stopped T.J. Yeldon after a 2-yard catch on second down, then he left his man and tracked down Blake Bortles, stopping him after a 4-yard scramble and forcing the Jaguars to punt.
Rookie Sony Michel made his debut and the first-rounder rushed 10 times for 34 yards and caught one pass for 7 yards. His best stretch came in the fourth quarter when he picked up 25 yards on three straight carries, including a 15-yard burst in which he made good yards after first contact. The drive ended with a Chris Hogan TD, New England’s first of the day.
Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung
The Patriots lost two of their top defenders with concussions, playing most of the game without Flowers and the second half without Chung.
Flowers was accidentally kneed in the back of the head by teammate Keionta Davis as the two met in the backfield in pursuit of Blake Bortles. It was a scary moment as Flowers appeared to be knocked out cold and lay motionless for a short time before being helped to the medical tent.
It’s unclear when Chung was hurt. He was his physical self during the first half, providing good support in the box (where he often takes on much bigger blockers). He was victimized on Bortles’s touchdown pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins just before intermission.
Cornerback Eric Rowe missed a few series with an undisclosed ailment and Deatrich Wise appeared to hurt his left hand on the final possession but walked off under his own power and made a brief visit to the tent.
The Jaguars lost starting left tackle Cam Robinson to a knee injury a play after Flowers left. Josh Wells replaced Robinson and did yeoman’s work throughout.
In the Patriots’ first prime-time game of the season, they visit old friend Matt Patricia’s new home. It’s been a rocky start in Motown for Matty P, whose Lions were embarrassed by the Jets in Week 1. It was followed by a 30-27 loss in San Francisco Sunday courtesy of old friend Jimmy Garoppolo.
Detroit has an excellent quarterback in Matthew Stafford but keeping him protected has been a challenge.
His favorite targets are the shifty Golden Tate and the speedy Marvin Jones. Another old friend, the brutish LeGarrette Blount (all he does is win Super Bowls) and the versatile Theo Riddick carry the run game.
Ricky Jean Francois (another old friend!) finds himself smack dab in the middle of a defense that has struggled and really misses sackmeister Ziggy Ansah.
“We’re still confident. We have to watch the film and learn from our mistakes,’’ said Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. “This is a copy-cat league. Whoever we play next is probably going to do the same stuff, so we have to correct it and get better. That’s what football is all about.’’