|Kyle Brady calls the Jaguars' defensive front "a challenging group to go against." (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)|
FOXBOROUGH - When called to bear character witness yesterday at Gillette Stadium, Patriots tight end Kyle Brady, a former Jaguar, offered this testimonial to the Jacksonville defensive front: "They're as advertised."
Which is to say, the Jaguars are big and strong and physical.
And, oh yes, good.
To earn a berth opposite the top-seeded and undefeated Patriots in Saturday night's Divisional playoff game, Jacksonville had to overcome the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-29, in a wild-card game last Saturday at Heinz Field. The Jaguars recorded three interceptions and a team-playoff-record six sacks against Ben Roethlisberger, but were forced to overcome a Steeler rally after squandering an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback David Garrard came through when he ran for 32 yards on fourth and 2 to set up Josh Scobee's 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining.
"What you hear about them is true," Brady said, drawing upon his eight years (1999-2006) in Jacksonville, where he made 241 catches for 2,500 yards. "They're big and strong and physical guys. They've got a few quick guys, too. So you have to be ready for just about everything."
And Brady should know.
From defensive end Paul Spicer, who led the Jaguars this season with a career-high 7 1/2 sacks, to tackles Rob Meier, who ranked second on the team with four sacks, and John Henderson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who tweaked his hamstring and sat for most of the Pittsburgh game, Brady has faced them all.
"Every practice, every preseason [in Jacksonville], it always prepared us well as an offense going against those guys each season," said Brady. "There's a lot of size and strength to go with a lot of quickness, so they're a very challenging group to go against."
While such familiarity might breed contempt, it enabled Brady to compile quite a dossier on the Jaguars' defensive personnel, which explained why several Patriots stopped by his locker this week to pick his brain. "There's been a few questions here and there," Brady said. "But it's pretty evident what they're trying to do when they're out there on the field, from watching film and things like that."
So, what thumbnail sketch could he offer on the Jaguars' defensive front?
"Spicer and [Reggie] Hayward are bigger and more physical guys, but [Bobby] McCray is a quicker guy [at defensive end]," Brady said. "Then there's Brent Hawkins, who plays out there at end sometimes in rush situations, and he's a quick guy with a good number of moves."
What about Meier and rookie tackle Derek Landri? "Rob started out as a defensive end and I used to go against him a lot in practice," said Brady. "He's pretty much worked himself to a middle player and he's done a very nice job. One year, he was one of the leaders for the interior guys in sacks. He's just a relentless guy and a really hard worker, a seventh-round guy out of Washington State who's really worked himself into a really nice player."
And Landri? "He's a rookie and I wasn't there with him, so on film he's made some nice plays and he looks like a high-effort guy," said Brady. "Obviously, last week he had a nice game with the interception and I think he had a sack, so he's done well, too."
Inactive the last two games of the regular season while nursing an injured ankle, Brady said he hopes to be ready to play against his former team. It is, after all, playoff time. And the 13th-year tight end from Penn State hopes to make his fourth playoff appearance after postseason runs with the Jets (1998) and the Jaguars (1999 and 2005).
"Yeah, you're always motivated to get back, regardless," Brady said when asked if Jacksonville's victory over Pittsburgh gave him added incentive to return to the field. "It's the playoffs and it's the time of the year when you really want to be out there . . . I'd hate to miss it."
It has been meaningful for Brady to be part of the NFL's most prolific offense. He contributed in his own small way by making nine catches for 70 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. And now? Brady stands three wins away from completing his pursuit of a Super Bowl victory.
"At this stage of my career, I understand where I'm at," said Brady, who will turn 36 Monday. "It's been fun. But I don't know how many more of these I have left, so it's been fun to be a part of."
Better yet, Brady will relish the opportunity to reacquaint himself with those familiar names and faces he knew in Jacksonville.
"Yeah, it should be fun," he said. "I have such a high degree of familiarity with these guys, being that I spent eight years there. It's a long time to be with any one organization, so there'll be some talking and some friendly jawing."
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.