Jaguars not showing fear of Patriots heading into AFC title game
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The week started with a little trash talk from the underdog. The rest of it was dominated by speculation about a certain 40-year-old quarterback's injured throwing hand
Plenty of intrigue for when the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots meet in Sunday's AFC championship game?
New England (14-3), the defending Super Bowl champion, is favored heading into its seventh consecutive conference title game. But the polished veneer it normally displays at this time of year is showing flecks of imperfection after Tom Brady injured his right hand during practice.
The injury kept Brady limited in workouts to begin the week and caused him to sit out practice Thursday.
Brady never has missed a playoff start during his 18-year career that includes four Super Bowl MVP honors. He said a bit contentiously only “We'll see” Friday when asked if he would play Sunday.
He wore red gloves and responded to other questions about the hand's status by saying, “I'm not talking about that.”
The Patriots' top-ranked offense will need another signature performance from Brady against the Jaguars' second-ranked defense.
Jacksonville (12-6), trying to earn a trip to its first Super Bowl, has scored eight defensive touchdowns this season, three more than any other team.
That's the most defensive touchdowns in a season by a team since the 2012 Bears.
Brady has faced a top-two scoring defense in the playoffs three times, going 3-0 with a passer rating of 100-plus in each game.
Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said their respect for Brady is high. Then he dismissed the notion that anyone in Jacksonville felt like the Jags were simply playing with “house money” after surprising the Steelers in the divisional round.
“We have earned the right to be here,” he said. “We have put a lot of time and effort in, so this is an opportunity we feel like we deserve and we have prepared for. I can honestly say I expected to be here.”
Jacksonville also will be up against history: The Patriots have won the past seven meetings with the Jaguars and two in a row in the postseason. Since Jacksonville entered the NFL in 1995, it is 1-10 against New England, including playoff games.
“We are going to go out and there do everything possible to stay alive and earn the right to be in the Super Bowl,” Campbell said. “They say you have to beat the best to be the best, so I can't wait to get out there and try.”
Quarterback Blake Bortles, who has been the subject of criticism at times during his career, said Sunday isn't about trying to prove anyone wrong.
“I don't think so. Personally, I do not care,” he said.
All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey caused a stir when he told thousands of fans awaiting the team's return after their win over the Steelers that the Jaguars “are going to the Super Bowl, and we are going to win that (expletive).”
But it might take more than Ramsey to contain Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Coach Doug Marrone saw plenty of Gronkowski dating to his stint as Buffalo's coach. His approach to trying to slow down a tight end he calls a “nightmare” of a matchup hasn't changed much.
“Hope they do not throw him the football. Hope he drops it,” Marrone said. “There is no secret formula. I'd like to watch a game where someone has been able to do it. He is going to make his plays, and you hope those plays don't end up killing you.”
In his past six postseason games, Gronk has 512 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. He is looking for his seventh playoff game in a row with a TD catch.