Jalen Ramsey’s day ended much worse than it started.
Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye had an opportunity Sunday night. With their team up 10 points in the fourth quarter, they could have made a statement on a handful of potential big plays.
Instead, they fell victim to the same trap stars like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Ed Reed, Antonio Cromartie, and Lito Sheppard have before them. They got torched by Tom Brady in the postseason.
Brady, as he is known to do, came alive in the second half of a playoff game, guiding the Patriots back from a 10-point deficit and earning his third Super Bowl bid in the past four seasons — and eighth overall. It was a brutal wakeup call for Ramsey, who had hoped to punctuate his second season in the pros, one that earned him first-team All-Pro honors, with a spot in the Super Bowl. He even went so far as to guarantee victory earlier in the week, and remind Brady before Sunday’s game could even start.
In the end, Ramsey would have to bottle that vinegar and save it for next fall. All he could do in the fourth quarter was watch Brady tear up his secondary en route to an AFC title.
Tom Brady’s late-game dominance was the ultimate comeback to Jacksonville’s trash talk
It took a while for Brady to really get going, especially in comparison to Blake Bortles, who spent the first half outplaying the future Hall of Famer. The Patriots started their day with a long stretch of swing passes and low-risk plays. Last week, that gave Dion Lewis and other contributors enough space to turn short passes into long gains. That didn’t work against Jacksonville’s athletic front seven, which shut down sweeps and screens with authority.
That led Brady to look for bigger plays downfield, and a capable receiving corps was up to the task. Brandin Cooks exploited soft zone coverage near the sidelines for big gains en route to a 100-yard receiving day. More importantly, he baited both Bouye and Ramsey into pass interference calls of 35-plus yards (one questionable, the other not).
But the man Jacksonville couldn’t stop was Danny Amendola. The veteran wideout, whose roster spot has long been reserved for his clutch playoff performances, had five receptions (on seven targets) for 57 yards, two receiving touchdowns, a 20-yard punt return, and a 20-yard pass, all in just the fourth quarter.
The Patriots’ top three wideouts — Cooks, Amendola, and Chris Hogan, the guys shadowed by Bouye, Ramsey, and Barry Church — finished the day with 15 receptions on 21 targets for 204 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions allowed on their routes. Brady’s passer rating when targeting the wideouts Jacksonville had to plan for the most? 133.8.
That was during a day when Rob Gronkowski missed the bulk of the game with a head injury, and the Patriots trailed until late. The Jaguars knew exactly what was going to happen. And even though it played to their strengths, they were incapable of stopping it.
Or, to hear linebacker Myles Jack tell it:
Myles Jack: ‘Brady’s gonna Brady. We got Brady’d.’
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) January 21, 2018
But you can’t place the blame on Jacksonville’s loss at the feet of one of the league’s top secondaries
It wasn’t all on the team’s defensive backs. The Jaguars ferocious pass rush dubbed itself #Sacksonville on its run to the AFC South title. While that unit harassed Brady early on, it faded as the game wore on. Jacksonville produced just one sack in the second half. That gave the Patriot QB enough time to find his targets downfield — a harbinger of gridiron doom.
Brady didn’t exactly have time to get comfortable in the pocket. He was frequently forced to move around, stepping up to avoid an edge rush that created controlled chaos along the hashmarks. He was hit multiple times, but bounced back after each instance with a liveliness that didn’t gibe with his 40 years on this planet.
That put stress on a secondary that had to keep up with a Patriots team that makes every skill player a priority target. Doubling Cooks or Amendola just means letting Hogan or Philip Dorsett, who made a tremendous adjustment on a fourth quarter flea flicker, hurt you. The presence of receiving backs like Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead only compounds the problem for opponents.
Even so, the Jaguars still had life even after Brady hit Amendola in the back of the end zone for the lead-changing touchdown. Jacksonville had possession with three timeouts and 2:48 left on the clock. A comeback drive would be a tall order for Blake Bortles and an embattled offense, but the young passer’s first half performance gave some reason for optimism.
Unfortunately for the Jags, a clutch second-down sack from James Harrison led to the fourth-and-long pass that Bortles came four inches away from completing.
Bortles could have had one last chance to lead his team to an unlikely comeback, but Lewis, whose longest run of the day to that point was only five yards, sprang for 18 on a third-and-9. That was the final nail in the Jaguars’ coffin, ending one of the league’s most remarkable comeback stories while advancing the familiar narrative of a Bill Belichick Super Bowl.
In the end, the Jaguars played well enough to beat 30 of the league’s other quarterbacks on Sunday. They came into Foxborough and commanded respect by carving up the Patriot defense and dominating the time of possession. Unfortunately, they ran into the one quarterback who can beat you even when you’re nearly perfect.
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