Patriots quietly await Jaguars’ challenge in AFC title game
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are spending the week leading up to Sunday’s AFC title game doing what they always do in the days leading up to any game.
Not saying anything negative about the opposition.
That’s the Patriots way — don’t give the other guys anything to put up on their bulletin boards.
So, when someone like Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey predicts his Jaguars will unseat the defending Super Bowl champs in Sunday’s game, the Patriots take the high road and talk about how tough the other guys are to deal with.
Reacting to Ramsey’s boast, quarterback Tom Brady, on his weekly WEEI appearance, said, “I think what I have learned for a long time is — it’s how you play, it’s not what you say. Everyone has different ways of handling things — players do, coaches do. We do what works for us, other players do what works for them. The game is going to be decided by who plays the best, not who hypes the best or speaks the best.
“He’s a really good player. I have watched a ton of film on him,” Brady said of Ramsey. “He has a lot of strengths. He’s obviously very confident. That is reflected in how he plays. I am more concerned about how he plays (as) opposed to what he says.”
Brady, headed for his seventh straight AFC title game and 12th overall, also called the upstart Jaguars “the toughest” team the top-seeded Patriots have faced all season — something that didn’t sit too well with Jacksonville.
Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith called Brady out on Twitter, saying, “Bruh this the oldest trick…pump us up in the media but in the buildin I kno what’s really bein said. Respect.”
Brady, who has had his shares of bumps and bruises in this, his 40-year-old season, skipped his Wednesday media session as he met with team medical personnel over a right hand injury.
The oldest quarterback to win a playoff game, Brady was listed on the injury report as “limited participation” in Wednesday’s practice but you can be sure he will be ready to go on Sunday.
He captured his 26th postseason victory, recorded his 13th 300-yard postseason passing game — extending his NFL record for both — and also broke a tie with Joe Montana to become the all-time leader with 10 three-TD playoff games.
The Patriots, seeking the sixth Super Bowl crown of the Brady/Bill Belichick Era, hammered the Tennessee Titans 35-14 in the divisional round, while the third-seeded Jaguars stunned the Steelers 45-42 in Pittsburgh and come into this game filled with confidence — and toughness.
Asked Wednesday what it will be like facing the NFL’s No. 1 defense, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, active this time around after missing last year’s title run, said, “That is a big challenge. They have very talented players on both sides of the ball. Especially on defense, they have many, many great players. It is going to be a big challenge.
“It is the best team we are facing all year coming up in the AFC Championship Game this weekend. We have to be ready. We have to be prepared. It is going to be a big, tough challenge, for sure.”
The Jags are trying to become only the third team — and first since the 1985 Chicago Bears — to lead the league in rushing and win the championship.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone told the New England media via conference call Wednesday. “We understand how great of a team New England is and how much of a challenge all three phases are going to be faced with. It’s going to be difficult and we understand that.”
These teams practiced together prior to the first preseason game back in August, and Patriots players said they saw back then things would be different with a team that won three games last season.
Now, they meet for the AFC title.
The Patriots have gone 3-3 in the six straight title game appearances, losing twice to the Denver Broncos and once to the Baltimore Ravens. Most people expected a battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers this week but the Jags flipped the script and come into this game as decided underdogs.
A big change beside the coach was the return of Tom Coughlin to the organization he helped build — as the first coach of the expansion team in 1995.
Jacksonville’s vice president of football operations, Coughlin coached the New York Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins over the Patriots, and one would have to think he can be of some help this week — as he has the entire season.
Asked if Coughlin might be getting too much credit when he, Marrone, is the coach, Marrone said, “He should get a lot of credit. (Jaguars general manager) Dave Caldwell should get a lot of credit. Our coaches should get a hell of a lot of credit and our players deserve the most credit.
“So I think everyone is trying to pull in the same direction. I just think that those people getting the credit, they deserve it. As long as we win I don’t really care who gets the credit. So I have no problem with that at all.”
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