Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Belichick praises Jaguars
Educated by a couple days of film work, Bill Belichick took the microphone for his Wednesday press conference and used 356 words to heap praise upon the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, those Jacksonville Jaguars. The 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Among those words, "good" was used 15 times - once, even, directly preceded by "very." He mentioned 16 different players by name, all in positive terms. He called them "competitive" on four occasions, and even worked "great," "impressive" and "solid" in there once each.
It's nothing new for the Patriots' coach, who customarily starts that Wednesday media session by crediting his opponent and the challenges it presents. But in that same opportunity a week earlier, his opening remarks were just 155 words about a 49ers team some say is the best in the NFC, and though there was a "great" and an "outstanding" involved, there were no players named and a mere three uses of "good."
A week earlier, with the AFC-leading Texans coming to Foxborough, he spent just 113 words. This time "good" was spoken six times, but again no mention of players. And while "solid" and "impressive" each made a single appearance, there was neither a "great" nor an "outstanding."
And that should leave no doubt that Belichick is at least a little bit leery of the chance his team might overlook the lowly Jaguars this afternoon at EverBank Field.
Patriots fans would like to think that's an impossibility given their team's leadership and the mental toughness it seems to have developed over the course of this season. Though the timing does lay something of a trap in front of New England.
Not only does today's tilt come after visits from Houston and San Francisco, but it comes at the end of a five-week stretch where the Patriots needed no help with motivation. It began with the hot and much-hyped Colts in a contest that was flexed onto national television. Next came the spotlight of Thanksgiving night against the rival Jets. After that was a chance to clinch the division championship against the Dolphins. Then arrived the Texans and 49ers, both in primetime, both considered measuring sticks.
With the high stakes of the playoffs looming soon, it's certainly plausible that the Patriots could overlook what should be an easy game against a bad team. Especially considering it may not have much consequence in their postseason seeding.
But the question is whether the Jags actually have enough talent to make the Pats pay for any slip in focus.
Jacksonville's defense is the NFL's worst against the run, (148.1 yards per game), second-worst by measure of total offense (394.1) and fourth-worst in terms of scoring (27.4 points per game). Further, their 15 sacks are the fewest in football - so they're not likely capable of repeatedly rattling Tom Brady, which is the best way to beat New England.
And as awful as its defense is, Jacksonville's offense is just as bad - if not worse, considering star running back Maurice Jones-Drew has already been ruled out for today. Per game the Jaguars have gained the second-fewest yards (284.1) and scored the second-fewest points (15.6) league-wide, and six times they've been limited to 10 points or less.
They have the league's second-worst running game (82.4 yards per game), and though Chad Henne looked briefly like he'd spark the passing game, he's twice completed less than half his passes and has totaled three touchdowns to four interceptions in his quartet of starts.
To their credit, the Jaguars did beat the Colts in September, then took the Texans to overtime in November. And you can bet Belichick told his team all about those games this week. But those were aberrations. Those were the only games this season in which they ran for more than 125 yards, or threw for more than 300 yards, respectively.
More telling and representative is that since their bye they've faced losing teams in six of nine games - yet have been outscored 245-154 in going 1-8. No matter, Belichick might say.
"They're a very good, competitive football team that works hard, makes you earn what you get," Belichick said. "We're going to have to do a good job down there to come up with anything."
You don't believe him. Not a word of the 356 he spoke Wednesday.
But this afternoon we'll find out if his players did.
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OVERRATED: Henne's success against New England. Yes, he's thrown for at least 305 yards in three of five games. But he's also thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions (six apiece), compiled a rating of 78.5, and gone 1-4 in those games.
UNDERRATED: Paul Posluszny. The linebacker ranks eighth in the NFL with 122 tackles, and has three interceptions. However, aside from Jason Babin - who has 1.5 sacks in three games since being released by Philadelphia - Jacksonville's defensive personnel needn't scare New England, even with Rob Gronkowski unlikely to play.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The out-of-town scores. Even if the Patriots win today, if Houston beats Minnesota, Denver beats Cleveland and Baltimore loses to the Giants, New England would need the Broncos to lose to the lowly Chiefs next week to be anything but the AFC's No. 3 seed.
KEY MATCHUP: Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon vs. the Patriots secondary. Shorts has averaged 18.9 yards per catch en route to 925 for the season, while the rookie Blackmon has 51 grabs and an 81-yard score on his resume. The Jaguars' best chance of staying in the game is big passing plays, so this is New England's biggest challenge.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Jaguars' head coach Mike Mularkey is 1-8 lifetime in games against Belichick as either a head coach or an offensive coordinator, and in those contests his attacks have managed an average of just 13.1 points. The lone victory came in 2006 as OC of the Dolphins, while in the second meeting of both his seasons as the Bills' head man, Mularkey's offense failed to gain more than 183 total yards.
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Dave D'Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @davedonofrio