Patriots hope bye week work pays off against Jaguars
By: By DAVE GOLDBERG, AP Football Writer
After a week out of the spotlight, the New England Patriots are back in its glow. They’re three games away from 19-0 and an NFL title, but one loss away from losing a lot of the luster a 16-0 regular season brought them.
That hasn’t changed Bill Belichick.
“We’ve treated it one week at a time all year, so this week it’s Jacksonville,” the Patriots coach intones. “Each week has it’s own unique challenges and that’s definitely true this week. I don’t think any of those other games really have a whole lot of bearing on this one.”
Same old song.
New England rested last week, as did the other top seeds in the NFL’s postseason festival: No. 2 Indy and the two top NFC teams, Dallas and Green Bay. They all face first-round winners in the latest test of whether it’s better to have momentum or rest.
But the Patriots probably rested less than most.
Even in a bye week, Belichick always gives his players something to work on. That’s in contrast to Dallas’ Wade Phillips, who told his players to take three days off. So Tony Romo went to Mexico with his celebrity inamorata while the Patriots studied playbooks.
The Patriots have reason to believe that Saturday night’s game will be difficult.
The Jaguars (12-5) won in Pittsburgh for the second time this season, losing a 28-10 fourth-quarter lead, then rallying to win 31-29 on Josh Scobee’s late 25-yard field goal. It was set up a by a 32-yard fourth-down run by QB David Garrard, who was the team’s leading rusher in the game.
Normally, Jacksonville depends on Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl this week as an injury replacement — an honor long overdue. They combined for just 77 yards rushing in Pittsburgh, but Jones-Drew had a 96-yard kickoff return to set up a TD and a 43-yard score on a short pass from Garrard.
Jacksonville probably will have to open up its offense against a team that set a regular-season record with 589 points (almost 37 a game). That, of course, was due to league MVP Tom Brady, who set a record with 50 touchdown passes; Randy Moss, who had a record 23 TD catches; and Wes Welker, who tied for the NFL lead with 112 receptions.
San Diego at Indianapolis
There has been so much focus on the Patriots that the reigning champion Colts have been low-profile this season, something they don’t mind at all. They’ve also had time to heal injured players, although Marvin Harrison, who’s missed much of the season with a knee problem, is still uncertain.
Still, this team may be stronger defensively than any Tony Dungy has had with the Colts. And the offense has been without Harrison for so long that Peyton Manning has gotten used to working with new receivers, notably Anthony Gonzalez.
San Diego also has a problem with one of its stars: TE Antonio Gates, who sprained his big toe last week and is day to day.
The Chargers started 1-3 under Norv Turner, but go to Indy with a seven-game winning streak, including last week’s 17-6 first-round victory over Tennessee — one more playoff win than the departed Marty Schottenheimer had with last season’s 14-2 team.
The Chargers beat the Colts 23-21 in San Diego on Nov. 11 in a fluky game.
Manning threw six interceptions and San Diego got TDs on punt and kickoff returns by Darren Sproles.
New York Giants at Dallas
These teams have played 91 times, although this is the first time they’ve met in the playoffs.
The Cowboys won both regular-season meetings: 45-35 on opening night and 31-20 at the Meadowlands on Nov. 11.
That loss in Dallas is the last time the Giants were beaten on the road. They have won eight straight, including a 24-14 win in Tampa last week, their first playoff victory since they beat Minnesota to go to the Super Bowl following the 2000 season.
They also have more momentum than the Cowboys, who lost two of their last three and got those days off earlier this month. Dallas hasn’t won a postseason game since 1996.
Seattle at Green Bay
Mike Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl coaching the Packers, points to last season’s overtime loss to eventual NFC champion Chicago to demonstrate why his Seahawks are equipped to play in the cold
The key for Seattle will be to get a rush on Brett Favre. Patrick Kerney was second in the NFL with 141/2 sacks and the Seahawks were fourth overall with 45.
But traction at Lambeau Field could be a problem; a wet or slippery field often causes defenses as many problems as it causes offenses.
There are connections between these teams.
Not only did Holmgren win that title and an NFC championship in Green Bay, but he is credited with making Favre a star, and “Holmgren Way,” named after him, is adjacent to Lambeau Field.
Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck was once Favre’s backup. And in a 2004 playoff game in Green Bay, he was caught by a microphone after the overtime coin flip saying: “We want the ball and we’re going to score!”
Instead, he threw an interception that was returned for the Packers’ winning TD.