I can see it now. As the players amble in from the harsh Boston winter to the New England Patriots’ practice facility in Foxborough, head coach Bill Belichick has served up a generous portion of Humble Pie. On the whiteboard in every practice room, the writing is literally on the wall: “Jacksonville: the Team Nobody Wants to Play.”
Much like Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's psychological warfare on his own team, when he put the Steelers' losing Week 15 effort to the Jacksonville Jaguars on continuous loop in the team practice facility, Belichick, no doubt, has made his team acutely aware of the unique threat that the Jacksonville Jaguars pose.
Yes, Jacksonville is big and physical on both sides of the ball, and explosive on special teams. Yes, Jacksonville’s two-headed running attack seems built for the playoffs.
But running teams are only built for the playoffs when they have a lead.
Running unfruitfully in the first half may throw the entire Jaguar gameplan out of whack if New England goes ahead early. We saw this in last year's playoffs, when the Indianapolis Colts, gashed by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the tune of 375 yards on the ground in a 44-17 week 14 laugher, were thought susceptible to the run.
Today, the Patriots are believed vulnerable against the run, after giving up nearly five yards per carry the last quarter of the season.
But when teams tried to attack the Colts' supposed vulnerability against the run in the 2006 playoffs, they played right into the Colts' hands.
The Kansas City Chiefs, led by Pro Bowl RB Larry Johnson, figured they'd just author a repeat of the Jacksonville performance. But they couldn't. The Chiefs' gameplan was too predictable, their offensive line, too suspect. LJ ran 13 times for 32 yards, his longest carry a mere six yards. The Colts won 23-8.
In the Divisional round, the Ravens hung tight with the Colts until the 4th quarter, based largely on their defense, which limited the normally high-octane Colts offense to five measly field goals. But the Ravens only scored two measly field goals, abandoned by a decrepit performance by Steve McNair and a non-existent — though tried, and tried, and tried again — running attack (Jamal Lewis took 13 carries for 52 yards) that they expected more from. The Colts won 15-6.
New England, the only team that had a real shot to beat the Colts, threw the ball 34 times and ran it 24, scoring 34 points with their balanced attack. But that team was betrayed by its defense and by two too many dropped passed by WR Reche Caldwell, summarily handed his walking papers in the off-season. The Colts won 38-34, but not because the Patriots' offense didn't show up — most of it, anyway.