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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jags vs. Pats: This Time It's for Keeps

FOXBORO, Massachusetts -- This is the second time around for the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots. The only thing that's changed is, well, everything.


When the Patriots got their second victory of the season Sept. 22, they were a struggling group trying to find a balance.


The Jaguars, meanwhile had the confidence and skill to challenge established teams on the road, but not enough of either to beat them.


Super Bowl berths will be handed out Sunday as the surging Jaguars visit the almost equally hot Patriots for the American Football Conference title, and the Carolina Panthers take on the Green Bay Packers in the National Football Conference.


The Jaguars have become a serious Super Bowl contender, thanks to a five-game winning streak to close the season and unexpected playoff victories at Buffalo and Denver. Who would have thought that was possible back in September, when they flubbed their way through the first half at Foxboro Stadium, falling behind 22-0?


"They've definitely got my attention," Patriots fullback and tight end Keith Byars said.


After a lopsided 34-8 home loss to Denver, the Patriots easily could have folded. Instead, they rebounded, winning four of their last five and playing well in a loss at Dallas.


"We've showed people we've got a little heart, a little character," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said.


One of the more annoying traits about the Patriots was their inconsistency, which betrayed a lack of maturity. They fell far behind against such inferior teams as the Jets and Giants. They blew a 22-0 lead against Jacksonville in the fourth week of the season, then won in overtime.


But as they've gone through those tests -- and responded positively -- the Patriots have grown up.


"It's just everyone believing and executing and attention to detail," said veteran Keith Byars. "Around the league there's not much difference from a 6-10 team and a 10-6 team. ... What is the fine line between the two? It's just small things, attention to detail, and that's something that starts from the top."


For the NFC title, it will be Panthers coach Dom Capers against Packers coach Mike Holmgren.


"Dom's a good friend," Holmgren said. "We do things in different ways with different styles, but the bottom line is that we both want to win."


Among their differences:


?Capers, who will lead the Panthers into Lambeau Field on Sunday for the title game, is known for his defensive innovations -- like the zone blitz, a current fad among NFL defensive coaches. He was Bill Cowher's defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, a defensive coach under a defensive-minded leader. Holmgren is offense. He was a Bill Walsh protege at San Francisco, a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator who grew up in an offensive-oriented system.


?Capers is a statistics addict, who knows where every drive started -- the 28-yard line and not the 27, and that makes a difference. Holmgren rarely has that kind of thing in his head; he knows the score and that's all that matters.


?Players describe Capers as focused and organized -- and note he likes his clothes free of wrinkles. Holmgren's never been accused of wanting every hair in place and he often seems to look rumpled. He once played in a rock band, and last year led his team into Texas Stadium for the NFC championship game riding a motorcycle.


But beneath that casual demeanor is a rock. In his first season, when some Packers complained after a loss to the New York Giants that they had been done in by the officials, Holmgren snapped: "Shut up. You lost, and the way you played you deserved to lose."