Jaguars out for revenge vs. Pats in AFC title rematch
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The Jacksonville Jaguars let the New England Patriots off the ropes in the AFC Championship Game, only to find themselves down for the count at the hands of Tom Brady and Co.
After serving notice in that January contest, the Jaguars (1-0) aim to deliver the knockout blow on Sunday (1 p.m. ET) when the Patriots (1-0) pay a visit to TIAA Bank Field.
Linebacker Myles Jack nearly had the big punch that ended the AFC title tilt, as an inadvertent whistle ruled a key fourth-quarter play dead after he stripped then-Patriots running back Dion Lewis of the ball. That whistle also prevented what could have been a game-sealing touchdown for Jacksonville.
Jack, who repeated this week that he wasn't down on that controversial play, set the tone in the Jaguars' season opener on Sunday. The 23-year-old collected a game-high 10 tackles, a deflected a pass and an interception return for a touchdown in the 20-15 victory over the New York Giants.
"Myles Jack, I think he does not get enough credit," cornerback A.J. Bouye said. "I watch him a lot on film, and even a lot of other players talk about how much better of a defense we are because of him."
Jacksonville's aggressive defense features six Pro Bowl players in 2017. One of those stars is outspoken cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who likely will get an earful from Rob Gronkowski after the former told ESPN's Mina Kimes that the Patriots tight end is "not as great as people think he is."
Gronkowski wasn't interested in taking the bait on Wednesday when asked about Ramsey's comments.
"If that's how he feels, that's how he feels," Gronkowski told reporters. "It's a big game this Sunday. I'm sure I'm going to have opportunities to go versus him. I'm sure he's going to have opportunities to go versus me. I'm just preparing like I always prepare. I just got to do my job out on the field and just worry about that."
Gronkowski put forth a great performance in New England's 27-20 season-opening win over Houston, reeling in 123 receiving yards and one of Brady's three touchdown passes. The mammoth tight end was limited to just one catch in Patriots' 24-20 victory over the Jaguars in the AFC title game before departing with a concussion.
The Patriots won that game -- and all eight encounters versus the Jaguars (including playoffs) in the Brady era for that matter -- thanks in large part to the decorated quarterback. The three-time NFL Most Valuable Player threw two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in the AFC title game to send the Patriots to their eighth Super Bowl of the Brady/Bill Belichick era.
Despite his success, Brady isn't looking past the Jaguars' defense.
"It's pretty tough. They were a great team last year and gave us everything we could handle in the championship game, and they're at it again this year," the 41-year-old Brady said. "(The Jaguars) got the same players, similar scheme -- I mean, as good as any defense we'll face all year. They've got an incredible rush, great linebackers, great secondary. It's going to be very challenging, tough environment and we'll see what we're made of."
Jacksonville pass rusher Dante Fowler, who sacked Brady on two occasions in the AFC title game, will make his season debut after sitting out the opener due to suspension for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Leonard Fournette referred to his availability as a "game-time decision" on Thursday after sustaining a hamstring injury in the season opener. Fournette did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but told reporters that he started running.
Fellow running back T.J. Yeldon picked up the slack in Fournette's absence with 51 yards on 14 carries against the Giants.
Mobile quarterback Blake Bortles could assist in the running game given Fournette's situation for the Jaguars.
New England running backs Rex Burkhead and James White were menacing out of the backfield on Sunday, with the former leading the team with 64 rushing yards while the latter reeled in a touchdown reception. Burkhead, however, remains in concussion protocol and leaves the Patriots painfully thin in the backfield.
The Patriots added Kenjon Barner to the fold this week to fill the void created with fellow running back Jeremy Hill landing on injured reserve with an ailing knee.
New England also bolstered its thin wide receiver corps by signing former first-round selection Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler this week. The Patriots feature Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett atop the depth chart as they wait for Julian Edelman to return from a four-game suspension.
Updated September 13, 2018