Conference Sunday has come and gone, and it’s time for two weeks of prep before the biggest sporting event of the year, The Super Bowl. The New England Patriots roared back against a hard-hitting Jacksonville squad, and the Eagles shocked everyone by smacking down the Vikings. So let’s break down the two games.
Jacksonville Jaguars (20) @ New England Patriots (24)
I f**king love playoff football. This is what fans love to watch. The most decorated team in the league up against a scrappy, young team with everything to prove. On one side you have the 25-year-old, much maligned Blake Bortles helming the Jaguars, on the other you have, well, Tom Brady. The 40-year-old man who defines the position. I’ve been saying since about week 5 that if the Patriots were to lose in the playoffs, it would be to the Jaguars, and that prediction came very close to true. There was so much to love about this game from the very start to the very end, so let’s look at some of the defining moments from this Conference matchup.
Danny Amendola is clutch in the playoffs
The difference between regular season Danny and playoff Danny is huge. This is not to say that Amendola’s regular season numbers are anything to scoff at, 61/86 659YD 2TD. He’s a reliable player in the regular season who can be looked to help get the first down when needed. In the playoffs though? He’s an assassin. After two 2017 playoff games? 18 receptions, 196 yards, 2 touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns came tonight. He has nearly 1/3rd of his entire regular season yards and receptions, and has matched his touchdown count. Dang.
His catch in the back of the end zone pictured above was an absolute thing of beauty. Because of this catch, however, I can’t find my favorite moment from the game. If I can get a screencap gif, I will post it below. But it was an incredible stretching catch that he ripped out of the air for a crucial third down, that I’m at least 100% sure wasn’t thrown to him, but actually to Brandin Cooks. Amendola absolutely picked off a Cooks pass, and he did it in beautiful fashion. Danny Amendola was the MVP of this game, no question.
Losing Gronk will hurt the Pats
In the second quarter, Rob Gronkowski appeared about to catch a hard ball from Tom Brady. Jaguars safety Barry Church flew in out of nowhere with a helmet to helmet hit that took Gronk out for the rest of the game with a concussion. Luckily for the Patriots, there are two weeks until the Super Bowl. If I had to guess, he’ll sit out all week and they’ll let him recover. But if there are any setbacks and he’s not cleared to play in the Super Bowl this hit will be a huge problem for the Patriots moving forward.
After the game Church apologized for the hit, saying,
I just tried to dislodge the ball. He’s a big dude and I was just trying to dislodge the ball, but I guess they felt it was too high of a hit. I hope he’s healthy. I know he didn’t come back so I hope he’s alright. It was a tough call, but you have to go with what they call. It’s the toughest play in football, if you go low for the knees you are considered a dirty player and if you go high, they throw the flag at you. It’s a bang-bang play and I was just trying to play football. I tried to lead with my shoulder.
He’s not wrong, that’s a tough play, and Gronkowski is the biggest tight end in the game. I don’t imagine that Church was headhunting Gronk but I wouldn’t be surprised if a fine is handed out later. He led with his head and Gronk got up wobbly. I feel for secondaries in today’s football, but the rules are the rules.
Blake Bortles has earned the right to be the QB in Jacksonville
Did he play a perfect game? For three quarters, absolutely. For the first three quarters the Patriots had no answer for him. They were so concerned with Leonard Fournette that they basically dared Bortles to beat them through the air, and he did. He was dropping dime passes, he was making great reads, he knew when to play aggressive and when to check down. Unfortunately when you go up against arguably the best team in the NFL you need to play four complete quarters.
As he heads into the offseason there will be lots of people speculating that the Bortles era in Jacksonville is over. It’s possible — there are certainly better quarterbacks out there who are free agents, and they have possibly the most talented roster over any team. But after this season, making it to the AFC Championship, and playing the Patriots to within 7 points, he’s earned the right to say this is his team. He should not give it up quietly.
Leonard Fournette is the real deal
After the game was over Leonard Fournette was distraught. After an amazing season it ended in brutal, nail biting fashion. Newly acquire Patriot (and Dunkin Donuts advocate) Ricky Jean-Francois comforted him in what should be a textbook video in sportsmanship.
Pats' Rickey Jean-Francios comforting an emotional Leonard Fournette pic.twitter.com/1LKE8nku2r
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 21, 2018
You can’t help but feel sorry for the rookie who lit it up this year. He didn’t have an outstanding game today, but the Patriots obviously played with him as their first priority on defense. As a rookie, that should be flattering. Keep your head up, Fournette, you have a huge career in front of you as a Jaguar.
Stephon Gilmore proves he was worth all that money
I feel for Gilmore. He was handed a huge paycheck over fellow corner Malcolm Butler, and was asked to be a top corner in this league. He didn’t have a great career in Buffalo and eyebrows were raised when the Patriots gave him his payday. All season people have loved to point out his flaws, when he makes mistakes. Today he didn’t play a perfect game, by any means. He missed what would have been a game-changing diving interception that went right through his arms, and he was thrown at a lot. But when it counted, he was there. His above pictured bat away on 4th down was what clinched this game for the Patriots. His recovery speed if he was beat off the line was fantastic. He got his hands in the faces of the receivers, and he broke up more than a few passes.
Is he the best cornerback in the league? No. Pro Football Focus ranks him at #12. But his play has definitively helped the Patriots reach another Super Bowl.
The Jaguars have a lot of questions to be answered this offseason, but with the return of superstar receiver Allen Robinson and if Bortles’ progression continues into next year, this team is downright scary. They are young, and I think they are instantly in the hunt for next year’s Super Bowl. As for the Patriots? Well it’s practically yawn-worthy at this point to say they’re returning to the Super Bowl in a rematch of the 2005 Super Bowl they won over the Eagles 24-21. Most of America hates them, but you can’t help but be impressed by the stretch they’re on. Colin Cowherd had an impassioned defense of wanting to see Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Love him or hate him, you’re gonna talk about him for the next two weeks.
Minnesota Vikings (7) @ Philadelphia Eagles (38)
I had a feeling this might be coming. After the Cinderella ending last week, it just felt like the Vikings’ had used up the last of their magic. There’s also this little pesky statistic. Teams that win playoff games with a walk-off TD? Are 0-5 in their next game. Also as was pointed out by the broadcast team, indoor teams playing in outdoor conference championships were 0-12 coming into this game. They’re now 0-13.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been unappreciated since losing Carson Wentz to injury, and they were here to prove that the haters just don’t know them very well. Let’s look at how they did that.
Holy Nick Foles
If you were to ask me this morning who the best quarterback to play today would be, I would’ve said probably Tom Brady. It was Nick Foles. 26/33 for 352 YDs and 3 TDs? What a stat line. He was dropping dimes all over the place, including on touchdowns of 53 and 41 yards respectively? He was absolutely perfect today, and if he can play like that in two weeks, the Patriots should be very scared. This was the best game of his career, and I can’t imagine he goes back to being a backup after this. I hear there’s a team down in Jacksonville who might be looking for a quarterback though…
Where was the Vikings defense?
Many would argue (myself being one of them) that Jacksonville was the best Defense left in the NFL. Those that would fight me on it should be the Vikings fans. All season Xavier Rhodes and the team in purple have caused fits for opponents, but today they were a non-factor. I was really excited for this matchup, as a football fan. I was really excited to see two top-tier defenses battle it out, and see how the teams gameplanned for each other. The answer? The Vikings…didn’t?
The Eagles converted on 71% of their 3rd down attempts. The Vikings allowed over 120 more yards than their offense gained. The Eagles scored every time they entered the Red Zone. The vaunted Vikings rush only had 1 sack all day, and the team forced no turnovers. You can’t win a game against a team playing as well as the Eagles are that way. There is blame to go around all over this team, but the Defense needed to show up, and they didn’t.
Eagles receivers balled out today
If you were to say that one team playing today would have a tight end as their top receiver, you would’ve given it to the Patriots and Gronk, right? Well Zach Ertz had 9 receptions for 93 yards. Past him? The top WRs on this team had themselves a game. Alshon Jeffrey (5/85/2TD) and Torrey Smith (5/69/1TD) showed why they are respected veterans in the league. Nick Foles was throwing with pinpoint accuracy, but the wide receivers were getting separation and showing sure hands.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 22, 2018
Look at that throw, look at that catch, LOOK AT THAT FIELD AWARENESS. Man that is a flawless play. Plus who doesn’t love a good flea flicker?
Jay Ajayi is a superstar
Remember when Ajayi played for the Dolphins? Lol. He got shipped out for a box of chocolates and handshake. The Dolphins practically gave him away to a team with Super Bowl aspirations. I shudder to think what blackmail Doug Pederson has on Adam Gase to have pulled that steal off. 18 rush attempts for 73 crucial yards. That doesn’t sound like a great statline, but he was making cuts, fighting for yards. He averaged more than 4 yards a carry. That’s MORE than enough to carry a team on your shoulders to win.
The Eagles have the best backfield in the NFL, with lead back Ajayi, bruiser LeGarrette Blount, and receiving backs Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. I believe this is the unit that will be called on to beat the Patriots next week, and it starts with the man who was traded away to a Super Bowl team to teach a lesson. Some lesson. Gase should take lessons from Belichick.
What happens now?
The Vikings quarterback situation might be the most interesting offseason storyline thus far. Sam Bradford is back, but is practically made of glass. Case Keenum proved he can be a starting quarterback this weekend, but he laid an egg here tonight. One time phenom Teddy Bridgewater is back, and supposedly healthy. At one time he was the future of the franchise, do they turn back to him? There’s also Kyle Sloter sitting at the back of the depth chart. Of those four QBs? Only Sloter is under contract for next season. What on earth do they do? I think you let Bradford go, and you let Keenum and Bridgewater duke it out for the starting position. When was the last time a playoff team had four active QBs on the roster?
For the Eagles? They head (ironically) to Minnesota to take on the New England Patriots. It will be a tall order for Foles and company, but if they played like they did today? They were the best team in the Conference round, and I think the Patriots would have lost against this Eagles team today. As we all know, though, no one gameplans like Bill Belichick. The Eagles have opened as the largest Super Bowl underdog in 9 years. I imagine that will give them some bulletin board material for the coming two weeks.
Julie Ertz, star player for the US Women’s National Soccer Team, scored in the team’s 5-1 rout of Denmark. Her also talented husband Zach Ertz is going to the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles had 5 TDs, USWNT had 5 goals. Coincidence? I think not.
While I find the video of her reacting to finding out the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl lovely, I’m annoyed at how many of those articles are using that as the headline. She scored in an international soccer match. Can we focus on that, rather than being happy for her significant other? Please? Here’s the video of her goal. Let’s celebrate this instead.
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) January 22, 2018