FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Myles Jack injured his ankle, was helped off the field and placed onto the back of a cart, which would transport him to the Jacksonville Jaguars locker room, his AFC championship done and over.
Jack had played brilliantly – seven combined tackles, blanket coverage and a fumble both forced and recovered.
Yet for much of the fourth quarter, he had been as ineffective as his teammates, unable to stop Tom Brady and the suddenly, yet predictably, resurgent New England Patriots offense, incapable of defending Jacksonville’s 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Jags could feel the avalanche enveloping them as it happened. Yet they had no way to escape.
Now Jack sat on a cart, his ankle throbbing as he watched Brady find Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone with 2:48 remaining to complete another comeback for the ages and end the Jags’ Super Bowl dream. As Jack was taken into the tunnel, Gillette Stadium rocked all around him.
“It was just like, ‘Damn,’ ” Jack said. “It was lonely. It was a lonely feeling.”
This is what it’s like to be on the other side of a Tom Brady comeback, slowly watching three-plus quarters of excellence get washed away like a sandcastle to the sea. That prize that was so close, can quickly move so far away.
Myles Jack is 22. He was 6 when Tom Brady first did this, leading the Patriots on a final-minute drive to beat the St. Louis Rams for the Super Bowl in February 2002. Jack has spent his entire football-playing life knowing this is who Tom Brady is, this is how he torments, this is the secret to his success.
You think you’ve got him. You don’t.
Now it was happening to him and the Jags. Jacksonville had a 20-10 lead with 10:49 remaining. The Jaguars had the Patriots in a third-and-18 from their own 25-yard line. They had forced five punts and one turnover. They needed just another stop or two to shock the NFL. Rob Gronkowski was out of the game with a concussion. Julian Edelman was out for the year with a knee injury. Weapons were scarce on the Pats sideline. Brady himself had a line of stitches on the base of his thumb. He wore black tape to cover them.
Jacksonville had been great. Jacksonville had been better. If not now, when?
Then Brady happened.
Twenty-one yards to Amendola. Thirty-one to Phillip Dorsett. Two more completions to Amendola, including a touchdown. Then late in the fourth quarter, 15 yards to James White, then another to Amendola, then that final touchdown. This could have been the play-by-play against Atlanta in last year’s Super Bowl. Or Seattle in the Super Bowl two years before that. Or so many other times.
“You can’t give the Patriots any air,” Jack said, trying to make sense of it all. “If you get a pass interference, you get an offsides, they are going to capitalize on it. That’s what makes them so great. Little things like that, the crowd gets into, they start playing their song, Brady starts moving faster.”
Jack shrugged his shoulders a little.
“It’s pressure,” he said.
Unrelenting pressure. It was like the Jags were starring in the horror movie they’d seen their entire life.
Down the hall the Patriots were celebrating. It never gets old. Even if it could for someone like Brady, who will make his eighth Super Bowl appearance at 40 years old and is seeking his sixth Lombardi Trophy, so many of the players are new each year. They arrive with background like Jack, young guys who grew up watching Tom Brady do these things. So they just assume he’ll do it again.
Early struggles are just data points for late adjustments. When Gronk was lost in the second quarter, the Patriots had to strip out their tight end-centric offense. It required more gimmick plays – a flea flicker, an Amendola pass-back – but that went seamlessly.
Brady went 9 of 14 for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth. He finished with 290 total yards. He acknowledged the cut on his hand that occurred during a handoff in Wednesday’s practice worried him during the week and wasn’t ideal during the game, but also wasn’t that big of a thing in the end.
“There’s a lot worse injuries than this,” Brady said. ” … I’d rather not wear it, but I kind of sound arrogant to say it bothered me when I had a pretty good game. Doesn’t that sound arrogant? Like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”
“We’re not talking about open-heart surgery here,” Bill Belichick said.
No. the heartbreak was in the Jags’ locker room, where players communicated in mostly hushed tones and stunned sentences.
“He’s a hell of a player,” safety Jarrod Wilson said. “You’ve got to play a damn near perfect game against them.”
“Willed his team to victory,” safety Barry Church said. “It’s tough. It’s tough.”
“The greatest quarterback of all time,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
“I’m sick about it,” cornerback A.J. Bouye said.
No one knew what else to say. So close, so far, so long. Soon the Jaguars would zip up their bags and drag them to the bus and head into the offseason like so many others before them, rolling into another Foxborough night full of regret and disappointment, left with a lifetime to remember how it all slipped away.
“Sad,” Myles Jack could only say. “Sad.”
Tom Brady. Again.
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