FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) 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 straight 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 will also 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.
Here are some things to watch for:
FOURNETTE’S HEALTH: Jaguars rookie RB Leonard Fournette said he is feeling “good” after he was rear-ended in what authorities say was a minor three-car crash early in the week.
Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns against the Steelers despite reinjuring his right ankle in the first half. It was his most productive game in three months.
“I feel good in spite of the ankle and stuff,” Fournette said. “Just taking care of my body, but overall I feel good.”
BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL? All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey caused a stir when he told thousands of fans awaiting the team’s return after their win over the Steelers that the Jaguars “are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that (expletive).”
Asked about Ramsey’s comment, Patriots special teams captain Matt Slater said Ramsey has reason to show confidence.
“He should be confident, because he is very, very good,” Slater said. “The good Lord made that guy, and he said, `Let there be corner.’ And there he is. I’d be confident if I were him as well.”
CONTAINING GRONK: Coach Doug Marrone has seen plenty of Rob Gronkowski dating back to his stint as Buffalo’s head coach. His approach to trying to slow down a tight end he calls a “nightmare” of a matchup hasn’t changed much.
“Hope they do not throw him the football. Hope he drops it,” Marrone said. “There is no secret formula. I’d like to watch a game where someone has been able to do it. He is going to make his plays and you hope those plays don’t end up killing you.”
In his past six postseason games, Gronk has 512 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. He is looking for his seventh playoff game in a row with a TD catch.
SIZING THEM UP: Brandin Cooks is used to being underestimated because of his size. So the 5-foot-10 Patriots receiver isn’t worried about matching up against the taller players in Jacksonville’s secondary.
Both Jaguars starting cornerbacks, Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, are listed at 6-foot-1 and 6-0 respectively.
“I mean, you go and play,” Cooks said. “We’re not talking measurements at this point in the season, you know?”
Cooks said Bouye he’s gotten better since he faced him during joint practices this summer.
“At the end of the day they’re physical. And that’s how they play,” Cooks said. “And they use that to their strength. So we gotta be ready to be able to match that physicality.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida contributed to his report.
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