FOXBOROUGH - When the Jacksonville Jaguars face the Patriots Saturday night at Gillette Stadium in the AFC playoffs, their game plan should call for them to pick on Ellis Hobbs. Why not? Everybody else has.
On a team with few discernible flaws, Hobbs has been singled out as a pass-defense pariah by some fans, writers, and talk-show hosts, the weak link opposite Asante Samuel. Hobbs has endured unwarranted and, at times, uneducated criticism.
Last week, Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees came to Hobbs's defense, stating that a touchdown Hobbs was blamed for against the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn't his fault as he was trying to cover for another player, and that on the 52-yard reception by New York Giants wideout Plaxico Burress in the regular-season finale, he was supposed to have safety help.
"You almost, when things like [Pittsburgh's touchdown] happen, you want to run away from the play because you know it ain't you, and you don't want to be on TV," said Hobbs. "But you can't do that.
"What really encourages me is when guys don't make excuses. Regardless of if it's their fault or not, they don't make excuses. They just accept it."
The chatty cornerback said he's never afraid to face the music if he messes up, but the only critics he answers to are his coaches and teammates.
"It doesn't bother me," said Hobbs. "Those people, critics, whatever, they don't establish my job. They didn't get me here. They're not going to take me away.
"What those coaches say, and those guys in there, that's who I'm worried about. When we look on film and we see things, we know what defenses we're in. We know who is supposed to make that play. I can sit in there with guys like Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, and they can tell what we're doing in the back end. We can see what they're doing up front.
"The film doesn't lie, so as far as the plays being made, yeah, I'm a part of that defense, and when individual things are done wrong, I'm the first one to come out and say, 'Yeah, I messed up.' But I'm not going to sit here and take the blame for something I didn't do, but I'm also not going to throw my teammates under the bus, either. We did it as a team. We're going to lose as a team. We're going to win as a team."
But football is often a game of one-on-one matchups, and one of the few matchups Jacksonville has to like against New England is its tall receivers against the 5-foot-9-inch, 195-pound Hobbs.
Jacksonville has a trio of wideouts who would look at home on the parquet of the TD Banknorth Garden in 6-4, 212-pound Reggie Williams, 6-4, 218-pound Ernest Wilford, and 6-6, 232-pound Matt Jones. The three make 5-11 Dennis Northcutt, who had 44 catches for 601 yards and four scores for Jacksonville, look downright Lilliputian.
Williams had 38 receptions for 629 yards, but 10 of them went for touchdowns. Wilford led the Jaguars with 45 catches, racking up 518 yards and three TDs, and Jones, a former quarterback at Arkansas, had 24 receptions for 317 yards and four touchdowns.
"Obviously, people do feel like they have an advantage, which is fine," said Hobbs. "They were blessed with a gift and obviously, I wasn't on that end, so just play the game, man, and let it all fall out."
On Burress's reception, which came on the second play of the Giants game, Hobbs was in position to make the play with tight coverage, but he simply got boxed out by the 6-5 Burress. Hobbs said playing against taller receivers requires a heightened focus on technique.
"You just have to understand what they're trying to do as far as throwing the ball over your head, and no matter if he catches the ball, he still has to come down with it," said Hobbs, who is second on the team with 12 passes defended. "Playing through his hands, playing great technique, staying on top, and playing the ball at its highest point, that's where you have your chances."
Hobbs, who bounced back from Burress's big play with a fourth-quarter interception that led to the eventual winning points, said he takes the critiques in stride as a one-time football fan who believed everything commentators said, too.
He said that players-turned-analysts - whom he called "sellouts" - pander to the masses who want an instant goat, not an X's-and-O's explanation for a breakdown. There is no such thing as instant analysis. That's why Patriots coach Bill Belichick always maintains he has to see the film.
"This is an entertainment business," said Hobbs. "Nobody is going to sit here and watch film. Nobody wants to do that. No fan wants to do that. The ratings would be terribly down, so you have to throw the smoke, you have to throw the mirrors, you have to throw the band on 'Monday Night Football' - who is it, Hank Williams?
"You've got to throw all that stuff in there because that's what sells, the entertainment side of circling a guy on a coverage [or] look at this guy and then throwing his stats up there and then showing him getting beat. That's what sells, but that's not the game.
"The game is played in between the lines, not on TV, not all this talking. The game is in between the lines, and if you're a legitimate NFL player, which everybody is in here, you know what happens day in and day out on that field, so it speaks for itself."
So does Hobbs's play.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org