A happier fourth-down outcome for Pats
|12.27.09 at 9:50 pm ET|
FOXBORO — This time fourth-and-2 for the Patriots had a whole new meaning — and result.
The Jacksonville Jaguars came in with one of the most feared short-yardage weapons in football in the person of Maurice Jones-Drew.
And short yardage is just what the Jaguars needed at the game’s most critical juncture. Following an eight-yard connection between quarterback David Garrard and receiver Torry Holt, Jacksonville was facing a third-and-1 at its own 35 midway through the first quarter and the game scoreless.
The Jags, the way their coach Jack Del Rio figured, had two chances to get one yard. The rest of the football world was thinking: Are you serious?
This was not the fourth quarter and your defense had just come up with a huge play by stripping Laurence Maroney at the 1-yard line, preventing a sure Patriots touchdown. Why would you possibly risk the momentum — not to mention the game — on a fourth-down gamble here?
But that’s not what Del Rio was thinking. To his credit, he admitted what Bill Belichick would not on Nov. 8 at Indianapolis: His defense was no where nearly good enough to keep up with the Patriots offense. He would be proven correct in that regard.
He was thinking, just give it to Jones-Drew and let him get the necessary yardage, as he did four plays earlier on third-and-2 at the 9 when he gained three.
But Del Rio knew the Patriots would be expecting this, so they decided to change things up on third down and go with the reverse to receiver Mike Thomas. That end-around to the left resulted in no gain thanks to relentless pursuit by safety Brandon Meriweather, who chased down Thomas from behind.
“I just trusted my instincts,” Meriweather said. “I think that was what I was lacking in the last couple of weeks. I had a meeting with Bill [Belichick] and Josh [Boyer] and some of the defensive coaches and they just told me to get back to the basics, trust my instincts and stop trying to go out of my element and make plays, so I did that.”
Yes, there was 4:53 remaining in the FIRST quarter. And yes, the Jags were at their own 35 in a scoreless game.
No problem. Just give it to Jones-Drew for real this time and he would surely pick up the necessary yardage. And this time, on fourth down, the Jaguars did give it to their feature back.
But Ty Warren, playing his first game back from an ankle injury, tied up his man at the line of scrimmage, allowing safety James Sanders to blow through and stop Drew for no gain. The Jaguars turned the ball and game over to the Patriots on downs.
“We got good play out of all our safeties,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “James has done a good job for us. He’s a solid guy. He prepares hard, is real professional and is always ready to go. But [Brandon] McGowan, Meriweather and Sanders, they all played well for us back there today and we used all of them. We had a lot of people involved in this game and it seemed like they all stepped up and made plays for us at one point or another, so that was good.”
“That was huge,” cornerback Leigh Bodden added. “The offense didn’t get in there and our job was to stop them, which we did. That gave the team a big boost and gave the defense and everybody a big boost to go on and continue to play hard.”
Four plays later, Randy Moss caught the first of his three touchdowns on the day and it was 7-0. After Maroney had fumbled on the 1-yard line on the game’s opening drive, the two plays by Meriweather and Sanders completely turned the momentum of the game.
Del Rio didn’t have to wait until late in the fourth quarter for his moment of truth. His came on his team’s first drive of the game.
“There was no question we were going to have to do some things to be able to score some points, to be in this football game,” Del Rio said, sounding like his counterpart facing Peyton Manning on Nov. 8. “We weren’t able to rush the quarterback well and their receivers enough to slow them down. I think that was pretty obvious early. We had to do all we could to give our offense an opportunity to match some of their scores.
“When they turned it over like that, we have to take advantage of that, and then to answer their touchdown when it’s 7-0 and we’re driving down, Marcedes [Lewis] opening the seam and the ball just sailed on David [Garrard], you know, and they are just too good to make mistakes like that and not capitalize on it. That was probably an easy target for you guys to bring the question up, but an easy decision for me.”
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