Matchups for the AFC championship game Sunday between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots:
When the Jaguars (12-6) have the ball:
That impressive performance in Pittsburgh very likely will be needed for the Jaguars to have a chance. That means QB Blake Bortles (5) must get time from his blockers Olli Maatta Jersey , led by C Brandon Linder (65) and rookie LT Cam Robinson (74), who is big and nasty and plays with an edge, against a spotty pass rush. New England doesn’t have any studs in the front seven, but everyone is effective. Last week, Geneo Grissom (92) and Deatrich Wise (91) each had two sacks. Who? Exactly the Patriots’ way.
Jacksonville will look to run with stud rookie Leonard Fournette (27) and valuable backup T.J. Yeldon (24). The Patriots held Tennessee, a decent run team, to 65 yards. The Jags, though, led the league in rushing yardage, and Bortles is a threat to run.
Jaguars receivers Marqise Lee (11) and Allen Hurns (88) can be a dangerous pair – Lee is vastly improved – and with the Patriots likely to try to take Fournette out of the game, how those two manage against an inconsistent secondary will be a key. In the playoffs, however, New England’s DBs, particularly S Devin McCourty (32) and CB Malcolm Butler (21) tend to step up big time.
The Jags hurt the Steelers with big plays, and the Patriots have been vulnerable to those at times. Jacksonville will require a bunch of them to stay close.
When the Patriots (14-3) have the ball
Start with Tom Brady (12). We could almost end there, too.
At 40, the four-time Super Bowl MVP plays as if he’s 30. He might have slowed down in December, but does anyone think the All-Pro quarterback won’t be on-target to fellow All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski (87) or WRs Brandon Cooks (14), Danny Amendola (80), Chris Hogan (15) and RBs James White (28) and Dion Lewis (33)?
The caveat comes from Jacksonville’s pass rush. Sacksonville had 55 in 2017, then four more in the playoffs. The biggest threat Patric Hornqvist Jersey , All-Pro DL Calais Campbell (93) had 14+ during the regular season and has none in January. He must be itching to get a QB down on the ground.
Fellow pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue (91), a strip-sack artist, Dante Fowler Jr. (56), Marcell Dareus (99) and Malik Jackson (97) could add to Brady’s discomfort; Brady’s biggest dislike is not being able to set himself to throw.
Trying to keep that pass rush honest will be the most underrated O-line in the game, paced by LT Nate Solder (77) and C David Andrews (60).
White has been super reliable in past postseasons, but Lewis has become the primary running back.
Jacksonville’s cocky secondary features All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey (20) and solid A.J. Bouye (21), and two castoff safeties who have been solid, Barry Church (42) and Tashaun Gipson (39). They will unquestionably be challenged by Brady’s receiving group.
After struggling by his standards in 2016, Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski (3) is back to being close to automatic: 37 out of 40 in 2017, 4 for 4 on kicks of 50 or more yards. Gostkowski’s 165 postseason points trail only Adam Vinatieri (234) and David Akers (175).
Lewis is the only player on the four remaining teams in the playoffs to have returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season. He ranked fourth in the NFL with a 24.8 yards per return.
Amendola is also a threat on punt returns. He averaged 8.6 yards per return during the regular season, including a long of 40 yards.
Jacksonville’s penchant for trick plays on special teams is something to watch. The Jaguars turned three fake punts into touchdowns during the regular season.
Josh Lambo, signed in mid-October to replace errant Jason Myers, is a former Major League Soccer goalkeeper who has made 21 of 22 field goals, including both in the postseason, and 29 of 31 extra points.
Brad Nortman ranked 31st in the league in net average (44.1) and had two punts blocked, including one last week at Pittsburgh.
Returners Corey Grant and Jaydon Mickens have the speed and agility to break long returns.
Give Doug Marrone tons of credit for changing the culture in Jacksonville. No more Lax Jax. This is a tough, relentless bunch on defense, and one that while up and down has become more threatening with the ball. Marrone has the Jags believing, and when was the last time folks in North Florida could say that?
Defensive coordinator Todd Wash should be getting looks for a top job. Yes, the roster was vastly improved on D over the past two years and Wash has molded it well.
OC Nathaniel Hackett isn’t nearly as accomplished, but he outcoached his Steelers counterparts last week.
What else needs to be said about the Patriots’ leadership Phil Kessel Jersey , which gets them this far all the time? Suffice to point out that OC Josh McDaniels and DC Matt Patricia both have been front-runners for head coaching jobs this offseason.
The Jaguars are one of four teams never to make a Super Bowl. Their win in Pittsburgh has them stoked, and their youthful exuberance that some might describe as over the top actually has served them well so far. Then again, riling up Brady’s bunch rarely is a good strategy.
Somehow, the Patriots have convinced themselves they are either disrespected, distrusted or dismissed outside of New England. Not a bad motivational tool, even if it seems to ring hollow for a five-time champion.
AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower contributed.
Gorkys Hernandez is hitting for power, grinding through long at-bats and moving baserunners with timely bunts – and his teammates are taking notice.
Hernandez drew a go-ahead, bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning after his earlier solo home run, and the San Francisco Giants beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2 on Tuesday night.
”We’re going to be talking about him for a while,” Giants starter Derek Holland said of Hernandez. ”He’s been doing outstanding this year, he’s been a huge part of this team.”
Tom Murphy doubled to start the ninth for the Rockies on a hit that sliding Hernandez couldn’t secure in center field, and the ball kicked back toward the infield. San Francisco left third base uncovered, but despite base coach Stu Cole wildly gesturing, Murphy never looked up and stopped at second. DJ LeMahieu wound up grounding into a game-ending double play that was confirmed on replay.
”There’s a lot of chaos going on at that point. Rarely do you see that type of situation occur where you have three guys covering second base,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. ”Pitcher, third baseman, first baseman end up going over there.”
Tony Watson (2-2) recorded the final out of the eighth before Sam Dyson closed out Colorado for his third save.
The Giants loaded the bases in the eighth against Adam Ottavino (3-1), whose scoreless streak ended at 15 innings with his first run allowed since May 8 at home against the Angels.
Andrew McCutchen had a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh inning before the Rockies tied it at 2 on Ian Desmond’s two-out double in the eighth off Mark Melancon.
Austin Slater and pinch-hitter Hunter Pence had consecutive singles to start the seventh before advancing on a sacrifice bunt by Hernandez, who homered to tie it in the third. Rockies starter Chad Bettis intentionally walked Buster Posey to load the bases for McCutchen, and Ottavino relieved and gave up the go-ahead run. Slater just beat center fielder Gerardo Parra’s throw to the plate.
Bettis gave up two runs and six hits in a 6 1/3 innings, struck out four and walked four.
He had allowed five or more runs in his previous five starts but hadn’t lost Sidney Crosby Jersey , a streak that is tied for the longest in major league history with Rube Walberg from June 1-18, 1932. All of Bettis’ decisions have come away from Coors Field.
Desmond hit a one-out solo homer in the second to put Colorado ahead before Hernandez tied it.
Four of Hernandez’s 10 home runs have come against the Rockies. His previous career high was three, and he didn’t hit any last year.
”It feels great, last year having nothing (homers) to this year having 10,” he said.
Following the Giants’ first day off since June 7, Brandon Crawford had three hits and scored the deciding run on the walk by Hernandez after a one-out single and steal of second.
San Francisco improved to 6-2 on its current homestand.
”We’ve been playing better,” manager Bruce Bochy said. ”Hopefully we can build on this, and we’re going to have to.”
Holland matched his season high with eight strikeouts while pitching a season-long 6 2/3 innings. Looking to win back-to-back outings for the first time in 2018, the lefty settled for a no-decision. He allowed six hits, the one earned run and walked two.
Three intentional walks by Colorado pitchers were the team’s most since three on June 24, 2016, against Arizona.
Rockies: LHP Mike Dunn (upper back strain) and RHP Scott Oberg (back strain) each responded well from rehab outings with Class A Modesto – both pitchers struck out two with a walk in a scoreless inning – and were set to play catch Tuesday. ”They’re healthy,” Black said. ”I think they’ve checked off a couple boxes health-wise. We have some decisions to make.”
Giants: RHP Jeff Samardzija was tagged for five runs in the first inning and six in all of his rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento at Albuquerque as he works back from tightness in his pitching shoulder. Samardzija allowed seven hits in four innings with six strikeouts, two walks and a pair of home runs. … RHP Johnny Cueto (right elbow sprain) is set to pitch for Sacramento on Friday, throwing up to 70 pitches. … 3B Evan Longoria is underway with his initial rehab work following surgery for a fractured left hand. There is still no timeline change from the initial indication of six to eight weeks, Bochy said.
Rockies: LHP Kyle Freeland (7-6, 3.55 ERA) makes his 10th road start out of 16 2018 outings and is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two appearances against the Giants this year.
Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner (1-2, 3.20) makes his fifth start of 2018 needing one strikeout for No. 1,500 of his career – and playing in his 239th career game would become the fourth-fastest lefty to accomplish the feat in the live-ball era, according to STATS.
1 post • Page 1 of 1