Twenty thoughts on the Patriots’ 31-20 loss to the Jaguars . . .
1. Doug Marrone claims he hasn’t watched a Super Bowl. I’m not sure we should believe that, but here in New England we had better believe this: The Jaguars coach has a football team that might just take him to one. The Jaguars, who could and perhaps should have beaten the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, thoroughly outplayed them Sunday in a rematch of far less importance but significant in meaning to the Jaguars. Quarterback Blake Bortles was exceptional, the Jaguars’ defense ferocious, and Jacksonville built an 18-point halftime lead. The win doesn’t come with a banner, but they’re justified in feeling like it’s a huge one, and it positions them as the favorite in the AFC.
2. Despite an afternoon in which little went right by luck or design, for a fleeting moment it looked like another improbable comeback was in the works for the Patriots. The Patriots got two turnovers — including a Kyle Van Noy interception at the Jacksonville 18 after the Patriots had cut it to 24-13 — in a span of six plays. The hooting from the Jacksonville fans at The Hills Have Eyes Stadium suddenly went quiet.
3. But the Patriots got nothing out of it. Dante Fowler Jr. did a decent Brandon Graham imitation and stripped the ball from Tom Brady on third down, then recovered the prize. Had the Patriots been able to punch it in there, I’d guess the majority of the football-watching public in this country would have expected them to win the game. It just wasn’t their day to live up to their reputation.
4. While listening to Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars’ defense brag about this for the next 15 weeks or so like they get a ring for it is going to get tiresome, that defense deserves huge praise. It held Rob Gronkowski to two catches for 15 yards, while James White had just 84 total yards. Chris Hogan scored both Patriots touchdowns, and it was encouraging to see him play well after being ineffective against Houston, but this is also clear: Should these teams meet again, Julian Edelman had better be the best version of himself.
5. The pivotal few moments are easy to pinpoint, especially if you remember a similar scenario in the AFC Championship game that played out differently. The Jaguars had a 14-3 lead late in the first half of that game (presumably the second-biggest one Myles Jack has ever played in), but White capped an 85-yard drive from a yard out with 55 seconds left in the half to cut it to 14-10 at the break.
6. This time, the score was 14-3 Jaguars, again late in the first half, but the Patriots could not pull off their trademark score going into halftime. Instead, it was the Jaguars who punched in a touchdown right before heading into the locker room to hydrate, with Austin Seferian-Jenkins’s 4-yard scoring catch giving the Jaguars a 21-3 lead. We all know what an incredible swing this is. It’s just that we’re used to it going the Patriots’ way.
7. Call it the Tannehill Truth: Watching a mediocre quarterback pick apart your team’s defense with one well-designed play after another is one of the great frustrations of being a football fan. But at some point, when it keeps happening over the course of a game, you’ve just got to respect it. Bortles, who often in his career has not even reached mediocrity, was exceptional Sunday. He just would not make the mistake Patriots fans were waiting for in the first half. He did throw a pick in the second half to add some drama, but he finished 29 of 45 for 377 yards, with four touchdowns and the interception. He was 17 of 25 in the first half for 200 yards and three touchdowns. If Bortles keeps this up, “The Good Place” is going to lose an outstanding recurring punchline.
8. This one won’t go on the career highlight reel of a couple of Patriots defensive stalwarts. Dont’a Hightower had a deft breakup of a pass on the Jaguars’ final possession of the first half. But he grasped at air on a Corey Grant spin-o-rama in the first quarter, and just looks slow out there. And as reliable as Devin McCourty has been through the years, an occasional well-timed interception would be helpful. He also got juked into embarrassment by Grant, and didn’t exactly pull a Benjamin Watson in trying to catch up to Dede Westbrook on the Jaguars’ final touchdown.
9. Is anyone enjoying the Cordarrelle Patterson experience so far? Seems everything run for him is basic, and most of the plays look like they should gain more yardage than they do. And that’s on the ones in which he doesn’t fall down backward after catching it. Let’s see him break one against the Lions.
10. Great to see first-round pick Sony Michel make his debut. Not so great to see him get the ball three straight times on the Patriots’ second possession and fail to pick up a first down. Michel actually got the ball or had it aimed his way five straight times from scrimmage. On the Patriots’ next possession, he ran for 3 yards on first down, then couldn’t haul in a pass on second down. Brady went to White for the conversion on third down.
11. After the drive stalled, Brady had one of his sideline screaming episodes (“Do your job!”) that surely made Joey Galloway, wherever he is, feel an unexplained shiver. The meltdown came not long after Michel was not quite in the right place on that second-down pass.
12. Meanwhile, Josh McDaniels was screaming at the offense at just about the same time. (I bet he was saying, “I STOOD UP THE COLTS FOR THIS?!”) Beyond letting the line have it for getting Brady hit, I’m not sure what else he had to realistically rant about. It’s not fair to expect Michel to be Dion Lewis right away, you know?
13. Michel, who finished with a team-high 10 carries for 34 yards, did have an impressive run with about three minutes left in the third quarter, churning his legs to pick up 15 yards up the middle. That helped set up the Patriots’ first touchdown to cut it to 24-10. Looking forward to watching his improvement over the course of the season.
14. Even the moderate successes in the first half felt like a missed opportunity. The Patriots covered 83 yards in 16 plays to march down the field late in the first half, but had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to cut it to 14-3.
15. Somewhere, Ryan Grigson watched this game and remembered the good old days when he was sure Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief were the next Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
16. Tough day for the Patriots’ defense, but I still believe this unit is going to be better than last year’s by a decent margin. Both Patrick Chung — who ran into a Wes Unseld-style pick on the Jaguars’ third touchdown — and Trey Flowers suffered concussions. The loss of Flowers, the Patriots’ most dynamic pass rusher, allowed for an easier day at the office for Bortles.
17. In the CBS booth, Tony Romo started yelling, “Timeout! Timeout! Timeout!” before Marrone finally got around to calling one on the Jaguars’ final drive of the first half. Not sure, but I think he became the first color analyst to call a timeout during a game.
18. First Malcolm Butler reference came at 2 minutes and 10 seconds of the first quarter. His name coming up every time the Patriots struggle in coverage gets annoying, but it’s also understandable. I still have no idea if Eric Rowe is a dependable starting cornerback. I knew Butler was.
19. In other news from around the league, I did not see that plot twist coming in “Vontae vs. Time.”
20. I know Patriots fans won’t overreact too much to this, right? Right? Houston/Jacksonville was a tough tandem of teams to face at the season’s start. Coming out of it 1-1 is not an especially jarring scenario, especially given how the Patriots tend to solve their problems over the course of the season. The biggest takeaway is not something that happened in the game, but something that ought to happen down the road: We’re going to need a rematch of this rematch. Bring on the Jaguars in January, again.