The Patriots are heading to Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. Season Ticket host Chris Gasper (@cgasper) and NFL reporter Ben Volin break it all down. They give their thoughts on a wild AFC Championship win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, lingering injuries for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, and the upcoming matchup with the Eagles.
- Ben Volin (@BenVolin), National NFL Reporter, The Boston Globe
On defeating the Jaguars in the AFC Championship
Ben Volin: All the credit in the world to the Jacksonville Jaguars. We’re [not] sitting here today talking about how the Jaguars blew it and how they melted down in the fourth quarter. I think the Patriots were the better team. The Jaguars were a little out-manned and, through a four-quarter game, Bortles and that offense finally regressed to the mean. This was very well-earned and hard-fought and the stat that I just can’t even wrap my head around yet is that this is Brady's 16th full season as a starting quarterback and this is his eighth Super Bowl. Every other year he makes the Super Bowl, which is insane ... It’s Tom Brady. The legend continues.
Chris Gasper: We’ve seen this script before and it’s a credit to the Patriots and Tom Brady that they make comebacks like this seem routine. That they can make the spectacular seem routine is a credit to them and it’s one of the hallmarks of their dynasty. Here’s a great stat: the last four times in the playoffs the Patriots have been down by double digits they’ve won the game ... I totally agree with you on Jacksonville — I totally thought they would make it a game and they did. That defense is really good and I think that defense earned the respect of Tom Brady and the Patriots ... In the fourth quarter the Patriots ran 25 plays; they only ran nine plays on offense in the third quarter and they only had 36 plays total through three quarters. Brady really wasn’t getting an opportunity and that was Jacksonville — they were taking him off the field, they were doing a great job on third down. But once [Brady] could stay on the field and execute, the Patriots offense was able to break through.
"I don’t think the Jaguars blew this game as much as the Patriots just won it."Ben Volin
On Tom Brady’s hand injury
Chris Gasper: The big story going into this game was obviously Tom Brady’s hand injury. It happened Wednesday in practice on a handoff. He was not able to practice on Thursday and there were all these different reports ... It was probably the most anticipated warm-up in the history of football just to see him throw. He comes out with this little black wrap on his hand and the thumb and then, at the end of the day, I thought the hand was a total non-story, non-factor.
Ben Volin: I didn’t see it affecting him too much. He took snaps from under center, which was a big key. He wasn’t just stuck in shotgun. He threw some darts ... His deep ball looked OK, Brady did not look to be affected. Talk about avoiding worst case scenario — he didn’t break his thumb, he didn’t seem to significantly damage the ligaments in his thumb. Yeah, the cut was bad but it could have been worse. He’s getting his stitches out this week. He should be fine for the Super Bowl. It was a total freak injury and Brady had a great quote: “There’s no way, after all this, my season is ending on a handoff in practice on a Wednesday.” Credit to him, credit to the medical staff for throwing some glue on it or whatever they did.
On the Patriots defense in the AFC Championship
Chris Gasper: I thought they were the unsung heroes, particularly in the fourth quarter — 0-of-5 for Jacksonville on third down ... There were some really big third down stops including right after that Myles Jack strip of Dion Lewis. That ended up not really hurting the Patriots — at least not from any other point than field position — because it was a three-and-out, basically, for Jacksonville there. I know the defense is always maligned and you still look at it and think, “Oh my goodness, Blake Bortles threw for 293 yards against them. That’s sort of an issue.” But at the same time, they just seemed to make big plays when it was required.
Ben Volin: The Jaguars came out and hit them in the mouth, no doubt. They had some good scheme plays and caught the Patriots a little off-guard and put up 14 points early. And after that, the Patriots made their usual adjustments and they clamped down ... I don’t think the Jaguars blew this game as much as the Patriots just won it.
"They can make the spectacular seem routine."Chris Gasper
On the Gronkowski head injury after taking a big hit from Jaguars safety Barry Church
Ben Volin: Interestingly, that’s one of the plays that the Jaguars and their fans are complaining about, that it was a perfectly clean hit from Barry Church and he’s just playing football. Another example of the refs cheating for the Patriots, I guess. I thought, even though it looked like he maybe hit him under the shoulder, he got him under the chin. It was a bang-bang play, it wasn’t dirty, but those are the type of hits they’re trying to get out of the game. That said, with two weeks in-between games, I imagine Gronk should be fine and ready to play.
Chris Gasper: I didn’t think it was a dirty play, I agree with you on that ... It just seems like the way Gronkowski plays, how physical he is, how big he is, what a big target he is, he just takes a lot of big-time shots. I think it's hard to stay healthy all season when people know they have to bring the lumber to bring you down.
On the Philadelphia Eagles
Ben Volin: It’s going to be a very similar game to what we saw yesterday. Obviously, the Eagles don’t have much of a quarterback in Nick Foles but they had a great game plan [against the Vikings], they still put up 38 points. I think [head coach] Doug Pederson is a pretty good offensive coach. They’re going to have two weeks now to scheme it up and they’ve got an excellent defense. [For New England], it’s going to be about stopping the run and making sure that they stay disciplined and don’t let receivers run wide open. And again, I like the Patriots in this one.
Chris Gasper: This game would have a lot more marquee value if you had Carson Wentz, who I think was on track to be the MVP before he tore his ACL against the Los Angeles Rams. You do have to give Nick Foles credit. He played really well on Sunday — threw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns in that game. However, if you told the Patriots before the season, “You can win the Super Bowl, you can lift the Lombardi Trophy, if you beat Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles and Nick Foles” I think they would have been doing cartwheels up that hill that Belichick makes them run up in Foxboro for training camp.