FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The week started with a little trash talk from the underdog. The rest of it was dominated by speculation about a certain 40-year-old quarterback’s injured throwing hand.
Plenty of intrigue for when the Jaguars and Patriots meet in Sunday’s AFC championship game?
New England (14-3), the defending Super Bowl champion, is favored heading into its seventh consecutive conference title game. But the polished veneer it normally displays at this time of year is showing flecks of imperfection after Tom Brady injured his right hand during practice.
The injury kept Brady limited in workouts to begin the week and caused him to sit out practice entirely on Thursday.
Brady has never missed a playoff start during his 18-year career that includes four Super Bowl MPV honors. He said a bit contentiously only “We’ll see” on Friday when asked if he would play Sunday.
He wore red gloves and responded to other questions about the hand’s status by saying “I’m not talking about that.”
The Patriots’ top-ranked offense will need another signature performance from Brady against the Jaguars’ second-ranked defense.
Jacksonville (12-6), trying to earn a trip to its first Super Bowl, has scored eight defensive touchdowns this season, three more than any other team. That’s the most defensive touchdowns in a season by one team since the 2012 Bears.
Brady has faced a top-2 scoring defense in the playoffs three times, going 3-0 with a passer rating of 100-plus in each game.
Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said their respect for Brady is high. Then he dismissed the notion that anyone in Jacksonville felt like the Jags were simply playing with “house money” after surprising Pittsburgh in the divisional round.
“We have earned the right to be here,” he said. “We have put a lot of time and effort in, so this is an opportunity we feel like we deserve and we have prepared for. I can honestly say I expected to be here.”
Jacksonville also will be up against history: The Patriots have won the past seven meetings with the Jaguars and two straight in the postseason. Since Jacksonville entered the NFL in 1995, it is 1-10 against the Patriots, including playoff games.
“We are going to go out and there do everything possible to stay alive and earn the right to be in the Super Bowl,” Campbell said. “They say you have to beat the best to be the best, so I can’t wait to get out there and try.”
Quarterback Blake Bortles, who has been the subject of criticism at times during his career , said Sunday isn’t about trying to prove anyone wrong.
“I don’t think so. Personally, I do not care,” he said.
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