No words can describe the emotions surrounding Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
Fans everywhere felt anything and everything from joy to sadness or anger, and even shock. Jacksonville came out swinging and put up a violent fight against New England, but even that couldn’t stop the Patriots.
With a 24-20 win, Bill Belichick and his team will move on to the franchise’s 10th Super Bowl. While neither team may have truly deserved to win the game, there are players who changed the course of the game for the Patriots.
After Gronkowski was abruptly forced out of the game, Danny Amendola stepped up and played a major role in New England’s win. Amendola had 1 rush for 3 yards, 7 receptions for 84 yards, 1 pass for 20 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He averaged 12 yards per touch; every time he got the ball the team was almost guaranteed a first down. Both of Amendola’s touchdowns came at crucial points during the fourth quarter. These were must have points that the receiver had no problem delivering. His most impressive catch of the game was the last touchdown of the fourth quarter. Brady found Amendola deep in the back of the end zone and lobbed it high to the receiver. Amendola made a Gronk-like catch by leaping above his defenders and making sure to keep his feet inbounds. Hopefully, he can make more catches similar to this one in the Super Bowl.
James Harrison and Stephon Gilmore
These two defenders made colossal contributions against Jacksonville. James Harrison brought pressure that the defensive line wasn’t using against Bortles. James Harrison had 3 tackles and 1 “quarterback hit”, while Stephon Gilmore had 5 tackles and 2 pass breaks. Harrison’s quarterback hit was actually a strip sack on Bortles in the fourth quarter that forced third down and nineteen. Gilmore had the greatest play of the game. After Harrison’s strip sack and another short play, the Jaguars went for it on fourth and fourteen. Bortles threw long and the ball was aggressively blocked by Gilmore to seal defeat for Jacksonville. Both of these players came through in the clutch when New England needed them the most.
Brandin Cooks made his way back into the spotlight with a stellar showing. Cooks finished the game with 6 receptions for 100 yards, averaging 16.7 yards per catch. The receiver had just under 1/3 of the team’s total yardage. Cooks, along with Amendola, was one of Brady’s go to receivers. Since the beginning of the season, Brady has been able to rely on Cooks to go long and catch his throws. It’s good to know that nothing has changed since then.
A truly horrifying sight. Rob Gronkowski is mid catch with just over a minute left in the first half. Then, out of nowhere, Jaguars safety Barry Church leaps head first at the tight end. The hit landed on the front of Gronkowski’s helmet, decking him flat on his stomach. He left the game and was later deemed concussed. No amount of rationalizing can pardon the vicious hit by Church. He wasn’t called for targeting. He wasn’t ejected from the game, and nothing is going to be done about this type of behavior. A more prolific underlying problem is at play here. Gronkowski isn’t trending down because he played badly during the game. How could he? He didn’t really get a chance to play.
Just when everyone thought the defensive line was getting better, they felt the need to prove otherwise.Jacksonville’s offense seemingly tore the line to shreds. The Jaguars ran the ball 32 times, and each runner was able to move the line forward an average of 3.2 yards per carry. Fans watched the entire line move forward or get sliced up on numerous occasions. Matt Patricia was finally able to put pressure on Bortles when he decided to blitz more, but up until that point the defensive showing was just pitiful. The defensive line and Matt Patricia have learned their lesson: blitz the quarterback.
The Secondary put up a performance similar to that of the defensive line. Each member of the secondary got beaten or embarrassed by Jacksonville. 73% of their first downs came via passing and the secondary left a lot of holes for the Jaguars to pick apart. Patrick Chung wandered around clueless when the Jaguars scored their first touchdown of the game; he wasn’t even looking for the ball. Eric Rowe allowed a 27-yard pass with no pressure and once he got to the defender, he kept him in bounds instead of making sure he stopped him! Malcolm Butler got dusted multiple times and practically handed chunks of yardage to Jacksonville. However, when push came to shove the secondary stepped up and prevented a score from the opposing team.
That is how long the Patriots have to shape up or ship out. Changes still need to be made. After this game, Bill Belichick knows exactly what needs improvement. Super Bowl LII pits New England against the Philadelphia Eagles. Nothing can be assumed from either team going into this game. However, it will certainly be a matchup to remember.
–Caitlyn Allen is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. She covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @caitlyyyn_allen