Patriots

This had to be the NFL's game of the year

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This had to be the NFL's game of the year

From Comcast SportsNetNASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Call this one Music City Mayhem.The Tennessee Titans are winless no more after an unforgettable overtime victory over Detroit featuring an endless stream of big plays, some suspect officiating and a huge mistake by the Lions on the final play.Rob Bironas kicked a 26-yard field goal in overtime, and the Titans stopped backup quarterback Shaun Hill on fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 7 to finally pull out a 44-41 win Sunday where the Lions messed up trying to draw the defense offside."Obviously, there was a miscommunication, or I don't know what you call it, from an enforcement standpoint," coach Jim Schwartz said.The Titans (1-2) blew a 20-9 halftime lead in a game featuring wild scoring swings. They became the first NFL team to score five touchdowns of 60 yards or longer in a single game."Piece of cake," Titans quarterback Jake Locker said with a smile.Detroit scored 18 straight points, then Tennessee answered with 21 points before the Lions scored the final 14 of regulation in a span of 18 seconds-- the first team to do that and force overtime in league history.The touchdown that forced overtime came on a tipped desperation pass after Detroit recovered an onside kick and got an assist from the replacement officials who did not review a possible turnover."Both of us looked at each other and said, We've never been through something like this in our lives,' " Titans coach Mike Munchak said of Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, a former colleague in Nashville. "It's hard to put in words what to say about that. We both could've won in so many ways."Schwartz's Lions picked up the nickname Comeback Cats last season with four rallies for victory from 13 points or more down."I've never been around one like that," Schwartz said.A total of 46 points came in the fourth period. Then in overtime, Bironas' third field goal put Tennessee ahead to stay after a drive that got its own boost from the officials.They announced a replay review had overturned their ruling of a catch by Tennessee tight end Craig Stevens, with the ball hitting the ground as he rolled after being hit helmet to helmet by Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch.After spending several minutes discussing where to place the ball, they put it at the Lions 29, giving the Titans 27 yards. The penalty apparently was marched off from the Detroit 44 instead of the Tennessee 44, where the play started.The Lions (1-2) lost their second straight when Schwartz decided not to let Jason Hanson kick his fifth field goal. Hill, in for injured Matthew Stafford, was stopped by defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Sen'Derrick Marks on his sneak, and Tennessee escaped, celebrating wildly even as an official stood over the ball before a replay review was announced."I'm very exhausted right now," Casey said.The Titans had stopped Mikel Leshoure for a 7-yard reception about a foot short on third down. Schwartz said he was preparing to call a timeout to kick the field goal and wanted first to try getting the Titans to jump offside."The crowd was loud," Schwartz said. "If they didn't jump, we were just going to take the timeout. The ball ended up getting snapped. We needed that, obviously, to make sure all 11 guys get the calls right there and be able to play it."Hill took the blame."It's up to the quarterback to get all 11 on the same page, for sure," Hill said. "I'll just leave it at that. It was on me."Players from both teams met in the middle of the field talking and shaking hands before an official finally announced the game that lasted 3 hours, 51 minutes was over.The game featured six plays of 46 yards or longer, with the Titans having five of those -- all 61 or longer. The Titans even had three of those 71 yards or longer.Hill's 46-yard TD pass to Titus Young off a ball Titans linebacker Akeem Ayers tried to knock down at the end of regulation tied the game only after some more confusing officiating."The guy came out of nowhere and caught the ball," Ayers said.After Hill tossed a 3-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson with 18 seconds left, Amari Spievey recovered Detroit's onside kick. Hill threw a short pass to the sideline to Nate Burleson who took at least a step before losing the ball when hit by Titans cornerback Jason McCourty.An official threw down his bean bag, indicating a change of possession. Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner picked up the ball and started to run to the end zone before another official ran up and called it incomplete.Because it was in the final 2 minutes, a review is left up to the officials and coaches cannot challenge. No replay review was done.Officials had other issues in this game, including twice announcing the offense would replay third down when it was obvious the defense wanted to decline a penalty to force fourth down."I may not agree with some of the things but ultimately, I thought they had control," Munchak said.Early on came shades of the most famous play in Titans history, the Music City Miracle to lift them past Buffalo in a January 2000 playoff game. Tommie Campbell caught a lateral from Darius Reynaud on a punt return and ran it 65 yards for a TD in the first quarter for Tennessee.Reynaud had never thrown a pass in a game going back to high school."D-Rey had to make sure that he didn't throw it over my head," Campbell said. "Then after that, everything else worked out."Jared Cook caught a 61-yard TD pass from Locker in the second period as the Titans went up 20-9 at halftime.Reynaud also set a Tennessee record returning a kickoff 105 yards to tie it at 27. Ayers then sacked Stafford, forcing the Lions to punt, and Locker found Nate Washington, who plucked the ball from behind cornerback Jacob Lacey's back and ran 71 yards for the go-ahead TD with 3:11 left.Verner grabbed the ball from Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew and ran it 72 yards on the play Stafford pulled up limping as he chased the cornerback. That seemed like the clinching TD with 1:16 left in regulation and only wound up setting the scene for more chaos.Locker finished 29 for 42 for 378 yards and two TDs. Stafford went 33 of 42 for 278 yards and a touchdown.Notes: Leshoure ran for 100 yards in his NFL debut. The Lions running back missed his rookie season with an Achilles' tendon injury and was suspended for the first two games of this season. ... Campbell got his second career TD off a kick or punt return he did not field. He scored on a reverse off a kickoff last season as a rookie. ... With his third field goal, Hanson passed Matt Stover for fourth all-time with 472s. ... Bironas kicked a 38-yard field goal at the end of the first half to tie the franchise record with his 20th straight kick. He missed a chance to have the record alone when a 41-yarder was wide left in the third quarter. Bironas missed another field goal in the third, the first time he's missed two in a game since Sept. 10, 2009.

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

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Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

MORE - Bortles earning respect from teammates, Patriots

Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

0:41 - Tom Brady injured his right hand during practice on Wednesday. Tom Curran, Albert Breer, Michael Holley, and Tom Giles discuss how this injury could impact Brady’s ability to throw against the Jaguars on Sunday.

6:06 - Isaiah Thomas has asked the Celtics to cancel his video tribute on Paul Pierce Night, and Pierce said that Thomas was trying to ‘punk’ Danny Ainge into a tribute video. Michael Holley, Kyle Draper, and Tom Giles debate if Isaiah Thomas or Paul Pierce is in the wrong.

11:19 - Albert Breer discusses how much credit Tom Coughlin deserves for the Jaguars great season and if Coughlin’s success against the Patriots and Bill Belichick will come into play on Sunday.

15:37 - Joe Haggerty joins BST from the TD Garden to break down the Bruins win over the Canadiens and Claude Julien’s return to Boston.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE EPISODE