FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts on what transpired between the Patriots and Jaguars during Sunday's AFC title game . . .
PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 20
1) How was Tom Brady's hand? At times it looked fine. At times, Brady was off the mark with his throws, forcing the football-watching world to wonder if his injury was inhibiting his accuracy. Brady's first pass to Brandin Cooks, a big-gainer up the seam just over Jacksonville's coverage, put Gillette Stadium at ease. His fourth-and-two throw to Danny Amendola, dropped in the bucket near the sideline with perfect touch, sent Gillette into a frenzy. The hand looked good. On Brady's first series of the second quarter, though, he missed Dion Lewis with a high throw to the flat. And on third down, Brady was high down the middle of the field to Chris Hogan. Brady's hand didn't keep him from making every throw, but it also wouldn't keep viewers from wondering if his injury impacted the outcome.
2) Rob Gronkowski's head injury -- suffered at the end of the second quarter -- put one pregame decision by the Patriots into the spotlight relatively quickly. The Patriots opted to make Jacob Hollister a healthy scratch before the game, giving the Patriots two tight ends in uniform in Gronkowski and Allen. With Gronkowski limited, Hollister might've factored more heavily into a game plan had he been in uniform -- especially since it was a game where it made sense to lean on backs and tight ends. Was Hollister's absence the difference. Of course not. But it eliminated two-tight end packages from Josh McDaniels' arsenal.
3) The Jaguars started to look like the Jaguars of old with about two minutes remaining in the first half. First, they punted -- with the clock running -- when they didn't have to. The two-minute warning was approaching. They could've had the entire roster on the sidelines and snagged a stoppage from the Patriots offense. They didn't. Bone-headed. The reason the Jags were punting in the first place was because they couldn't get a snap off in time following a time out. Delay of game penalty. Think about that. That turned a third-and-seven situation into a third-and-12. Then, on New England's subsequent possession, they picked up a personal-foul penalty and a pass-interference penalty that allowed the Patriots to drive and score just before the break. What could have been a 14-3 lead or more became a 14-10 lead in a blink due to Jacksonville's mistakes.
4) Just when it looked like the Patriots out-smarted the Jaguars defense to pick up a big gain, they shot themselves in the foot with a devastating mistake. The Patriots worked a double-pass, using Danny Amendola's right arm to throw back across the field to a wide open Dion Lewis. With blockers in front of him, Lewis picked up 20 yards before Myles Jack caught him from behind. As Jack made the tackle, he punched the ball loose and recovered in one clean motion as he fell to the ground. It was an incredibly athletic play made by one of the most athletic linebackers in football. And it snuffed out a promising Patriots drive when they desperately needed one.
5) With Gronkowski out and Julian Edelman in mothballs, who's Brady's most trusted option? That would be the receiver dubbed "All-Weather 'Dola" by teammate Matthew Slater. Brady hit Amendola for three catches worth 44 yards, including a nine-yard score with 8:44 left in the game. Amendola's fellow wideouts came up big throughout that drive, which cut the Jaguars lead to 20-17. Cooks started things off with an 18-yard contested catch along the sidelines, and Phillip Dorsett made a 31-yard catch off of a flea-flicker to keep the Patriots moving.