All week leading up to their matchup with New England, the Jacksonville Jaguars tried to convince themselves that these were not the same Patriots that had eliminated them from the playoffs in both 2005 and 2007.
Indeed, for the last month, the Patriots’ offense had struggled to produce points — their scoring average dipped to 18.8 points over their last four games. While battling injuries, Tom Brady‘s stock was also trending downward during those last four outings, in which he had completed only 53 percent of his passes with four TDs and six interceptions.
I called the game for CBS Sports on Sunday, and could hardly blame the Jaguars for downgrading the ’09 Patriots, who seem to be a team in transition after the departure of defensive leaders Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour. And two weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers proclaimed Randy Moss to be a part-time player who didn’t always give 100 percent.
After speaking with Brady the night before the game, I sensed playtime was over. Brady explained to me how his assortment of injuries had not allowed him to fully participate in practice during the previous weeks, when the Patriots managed to win only two of their four games. Brady explained how their offensive system would only carry over 15 to 20 core plays into each game, but there would be 35 to 40 new plays to learn each week. He went on to explain how, for a quarterback, it’s vital to run new plays repeatedly in practice during the week. Instead, over the last four weeks, Brady had been running many of these new plays for the first time in games without the benefit of practice.
On Saturday night he assured me he had a great week of practice and that the Patriots’ offensive point production was close to improving without taking drastic measures.
“All we need to do to convert a few more third downs and points will come,” said Brady.
The next day, Brady went through the Jaguars defense like a hot knife through warm butter. He began the game by completing his first seven passes. His next two attempts fell incomplete as he intentionally threw the ball out of bounds to avoid forcing a bad throw. Brady then completed 14 straight passes to finish what he had started. When he was done, 35 points hung on the board. Wes Welker caught 13 passes and set a team record for most receptions in a single season. Moss torched the Jags — and his critics — while catching three of Brady’s four touchdown passes. Brady completed all but three of his 26 attempts. More importantly, he led the Patriots to their seventh AFC East division title in nine seasons.
It appears as though someone has awakened the sleeping giant. It’s also become clear that if you are a Patriots hater, then it is probably best to remain silent and not rekindle the championship fire that most had thought was extinguished.