Curran: Win over hapless Jaguars open to interpretation for Patriots


So what do you make of a 40-point win over the worst team in football? Whatever you like.

If you want to break out the sheet cake because the Patriots are in the playoffs after last year’s 7-9 season, go ahead.

You want to point to this as a "get right" win after a couple of pancake-flat performances against decent teams? Feel free.

You want to want to breathe a sigh of relief after a "that’s more like it" afternoon from Mac Jones? No problem. You’re not wrong.

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On the other hand ...

If you want to scoff at the very determined ineptitude of the Jaguars and the fact the defense was basically going against a batting practice pitcher in Trevor Lawrence, you have a point.

You want to circle back to the fact that seven of their 10 wins have been against non-playoff teams and that they’re 3-5 against teams 8-8 or better, that’s fair too.

In 2018, when every one of the Patriots' five losses came against teams that didn’t make the playoffs, their end-of-the-season manhandlings of the Jets and Bills were met with yawns. But the Patriots found something in those games that propelled them in the playoffs.

In 2019, when the Patriots cuffed around the Bengals and Bills in Week 15 and 16, they seemed to be getting right. Then they lost to a nothing-to-play-for Dolphins team and got whisked out of the playoffs by Tennessee.

Bottom line, there’s no way to know if hammering the aimless Jaguars indicates anything about what’s to come. But it sure as hell didn’t hurt. The Patriots went 6-for-6 in the red zone, had three penalties and went 8-for-10 on third down. They had three picks on defense and didn’t allow the Jags to get over 200 yards of offense until late in the game.

Sunday afternoon was like a decent shooter in a cold snap getting to the line and seeing the ball go in a couple of times. It cannot hurt.

There is a significant difference between those 2018 and 2019 Patriots teams in this one. There’s no Tom Brady. Or Gronk. Or Julian Edelman. Which means it’s highly unlikely these Patriots are going to get some kind of superhero performance that will save them in the postseason when all seems lost.

But -- and this is just as important -- this team knows itself a little better than those teams did. The 2018 team was still coming to grips with the fact they had to be a ground-oriented team that leaned on its defense and they did that in the final games of that regular season.

The 2019 team wasn’t nearly as competent on offense as this one because it was Brady, Edelman, James White and cross your fingers. And the defense wasn’t as good as it thought it was when it fattened up on teams for the first half of that season.

This team at least knows its limitations -- especially after their losses to the Bills and Colts. They’re not good enough to just roll the balls out there, start slow and track down opponents who are prone to implosion. Those losses to Indy and Buffalo gave them a glimpse of how things will go if they don’t throw the first punch.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Why the Patriots’ beat down of Jacksonville was very necessary | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

When you pull back and look at the rest of the conference, the Patriots could lose to any of the other teams headed to the tournament. And any of them could -- COULD -- lose to New England. And that includes Kansas City, which was taken down by Cincinnati on Sunday.

You wouldn’t have been able to say that with any certainty had this been one of those 19-13 wins that was still in the balance in the fourth quarter. A beatdown of the Triple A Jags was necessary because without it, there would have been another week of navel-gazing and introspection.

Even though the Dolphins have been eliminated from playoff contention, my guess is they won’t roll over for the Patriots in South Florida next week. Could be a rock fight.

New England needed a feel-good win at the tail end of their schedule to guard against the "splintering" that Matthew Slater alluded to at the start of last week. And they got it. I can hear you thinking to yourself, "Over Jacksonville? Big deal." Maybe you’re right.

But after freefalling from the No. 1 seed down to a Wild Card berth, the Patriots needed to grab a tree branch on the way down so they could start climbing back up. Mission accomplished.

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