The New England Patriots are playing in the AFC Championship for the seventh straight season – and for the 12th time since 2001. The Jaguars, meanwhile, will stroll into Sunday slightly less experienced.
They’ll be playing in their first AFC Championship since 1999.
“This is all new for them,” Pro Football Hall of Famer and CBS NFL analyst James Lofton said on The DA Show.
How they respond will be fascinating to watch.
“When they got to 10 wins and they were 10-4 and they had kind of sewn up the AFC South, they floundered the last two games,” Lofton said. “They went out, they lost to the San Francisco 49ers, to Jimmy Garoppolo. They lose their last regular-season game. They allow the Tennessee Titans, their arch-rival, to get into the playoffs by losing to them. And then they have to catch their breath.”
Indeed, Jacksonville lost 44-33 to the 49ers and 15-10 to the Titans, leading many to question whether the Jaguars were built for January.
As it turns out, they were.
The Jags beat Buffalo 10-3 in the Wild Card and beat the Steelers 45-42 in the Divisional Playoffs. It was Jacksonville’s second win at Heinz Field this season, as Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns and Blake Bortles threw for 214 yards and a score.
“They’re kind of riding high,” Lofton said. “The defense, they made a few plays last week, but they didn’t make all the plays that they wanted to make. So they’re kind of hungry, the offense is feeling a little bit good about themselves, there was some diversity in what they were able to do, they were able to run the ball and throw the ball – so they’re feeling pretty good about themselves.”
Tom Brady might have something to say about that Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET.
“I think (the Jaguars) go in with a chip on their shoulder because that’s the way they played defensively all year long,” Lofton said. “The one thing that I caution them about and I caution Jacksonville: snap to the whistle. That’s all you have to play. They do a lot of yapping afterwards, they do a lot of pushing and shoving, and they do accumulate those personal fouls that are totally unnecessary – (mistakes) that, against a good team, will run you out of the building.”
You don’t want to give the Patriots second chances. They trailed Tennessee 7-0 this past Saturday. Then they scored 35 unanswered points.
Jacksonville’s defense, which was second to Minnesota in both yards and points allowed this season, won’t back down, but it will need to be in top form to slow Brady. Bortles, meanwhile, must keep New England’s defense honest to open holes for Fournette.
“That defense can certainly win championships – and listening to them talk, they’ll tell you that they can certainly win a championship,” Lofton said of the Jaguars, chuckling. “But if (Bortles) can play a game where he can throw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and not turn the ball over and run the ball like he does occasionally to pick up a first down, could they beat New England? We’ll see on Sunday.”