It was a good start to the AFC Championship for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but several mistakes before halftime, including two questionable coaching decisions afforded the New England Patriots the chance to keep things close after the first two quarters.
The Jaguars jumped out to a 14-3 lead with two touchdowns in the second quarter. Jacksonville threatened to add to its lead with a drive that reached New England territory, but a sack of Blake Bortles pushed the team back and forced a punt with just over two minutes left.
In those last two minutes, the Jaguars made three errors that left the team with just a four-point lead that was eventually squandered in the second half.
1. Why rush to punt?
With the seconds winding down before the two-minute warning and the Jaguars facing a fourth down near midfield, the team inexplicably snapped the ball with plenty time left on the play clock. The result was the Patriots starting a drive with 2:02 left in the half and one timeout.
It’s impossible to know how the drive would’ve played out if the Patriots didn’t have the two-minute warning to reset after the first play, but New England didn’t have to use its timeout, so it may not have mattered. But making things easier for Tom Brady and the Patriots at the end of a half is never smart.
The Patriots scored 56 points in the final minute of the first half this season, including the playoffs.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2018
That's the most in the NFL.
2. A pair of penalties put the Patriots on the doorstep
It took little time for New England to drive the length of the field — with the assistance of some penalties on the Jaguars’ defense — and cap the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run for James White.
The Jaguars afforded New England large chunks of yardage with a helmet-to-helmet hit delivered on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski followed by a pass interference call on Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye. The latter was a questionable call, but it put New England on the doorstep of a touchdown.
The helmet-to-helmet contact was clear, though.
Much was made of the 98 penalty yards racked up by the Jaguars compared to just 10 for the Patriots, but more than half of those yards for Jacksonville came on New England’s first touchdown drive to give the team momentum before halftime.
The Jaguars played ultra conservative on the ensuing possession
While the Patriots drove 85 yards for a touchdown in 64 seconds without using a timeout, the Jaguars elected not to try to drive the field after taking over at the 25-yard line with 55 seconds and two timeouts.
It was one of the most conservative decisions any team has made all year.
The Jaguars decided to kneel with 55 seconds remaining in the first half and 2 timeouts.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2018
No team had taken a knee with over 50 seconds remaining in the first half this season.
Jacksonville is a team with a ball-control offense that runs often, so kneeling with so much time to drive the field isn’t that silly. But plenty of teams have made attempts to score in similar or worse situations and many wound up with points.
in 2017, if a team got the ball inside the 25 in the last minute of the first half and actually tried to play it out, the most likely outcome was a field goal pic.twitter.com/QSI82hwbZ0— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) January 21, 2018
After the game, Marrone explained that the team was going to get the ball to begin the second half and he’d rather make some adjustments at halftime before trying to drive the field again. The reality, though, is likely that the Jaguars just didn’t want to make a mistake and go to halftime without a lead at all.
The Jaguars took their four-point advantage into halftime, but it wasn’t enough. And the strong start for Jacksonville didn’t matter much when the Patriots closed the gap in the last two minutes of the second quarter.