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Eagles and Jaguars had different approaches playing with a lead. One of them is headed to the Super Bowl

And it’s not the Jaguars.

NFC Championship - Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars had very different takes on how to play a conference championship with a lead. And it’s because of those different approaches that only one of them — the Eagles — will play in the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia kept its foot on the gas and didn’t give the Minnesota Vikings any room to breathe in a dominant win in the NFC Championship. Meanwhile, the Jaguars held onto a tenuous lead over the New England Patriots, got conservative, and lost the game in the fourth quarter.

How they handled the end of the first half

Philadelphia, with 29 seconds remaining in the first half, a 14-point lead, and two timeouts, aired it out and drove 60 yards in four plays, allowing Jake Elliott to connect on a 38-yard field goal. That gave the Eagles a three-score lead heading into halftime.

Jacksonville, with 55 seconds remaining in the first half, a four-point lead, and two timeouts, elected to kneel out the half. They lost the game by four points.

When the Jaguars made the decision to kneel before halftime, Blake Bortles was playing quite well. He had completed passes for 27, 20, 15, and 11 yards, and had a touchdown pass on top of that. Leonard Fournette had already rushed for 40 yards and had a couple of receptions. The Patriots’ defense hadn’t tightened up on them, and the best chance to build on their lead was before Bill Belichick had an entire halftime period with which to make adjustments.

Coasting in the second half vs. staying aggressive

The Patriots didn’t manage to take the lead until the fourth quarter, but they did it against a Jaguars team that was overly timid on offense. With the lead in the second half, the Jaguars ran the ball on 10 out of 13 first-down plays.

On third down, most passes were thrown short of the sticks. Bortles attempted zero passes defined as “deep” in the third quarter, when the Jaguars were winning.

After New England took the lead, Bortles went deep multiple times, and came very close to a brilliant fourth-down conversion after he threw a beautiful pass that was just barely broken up by Stephon Gilmore. He has the ability to make the throws, but he — or offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett — didn’t try until the Patriots were ahead.

The Eagles, with their underdog mindset, didn’t let up. They came out slinging the ball in the second half, running all but two plays on their opening second-half drive out of the shotgun. Nick Foles wound up hitting Torrey Smith on a 41-yard touchdown pass. That play was even a flea flicker, a trick play where a number of things can go horribly wrong. It was decidedly unsafe, but it paid off.

Up 31-7 with six minutes to go in the third, the Eagles once again came out in the shotgun and threw the ball more than they ran it. That’s despite having Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, two running backs who were both having good games.

Foles hit Nelson Agholor for a 42-yard completion, setting up Foles’ third touchdown of the game. The Eagles wanted to grind the Vikings into dust and show that they weren’t just underdogs, they’re alpha dogs. They did that. They ended up punching their ticket to the Super Bowl with a 38-7 victory.

The Jaguars could have played with this mentality — it’s a reason they made it this far to begin with, thriving off the disrespect of their opponents. But on the field and on the sidelines, the Jaguars made very questionable decisions, and it cost them against a team that everybody else knew was primed for a fourth-quarter comeback.

Now the Eagles are underdogs again, as any team playing Belichick and Tom Brady almost automatically is. This time it’s in the Super Bowl, so the stakes are higher than ever. But if the Eagles take a lead in the first half, you can bet they won’t sit on it when they know Brady is still on the other side, trying to work the magic he’s so known for.


The Patriots rallied while the Eagles rolled on Sunday