On Sunday, we laughed and laughed at the Pittsburgh Steelers and their hubris. Many Steelers were so convinced they would meet the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, they forgot they had to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars first. The Steelers got a comeuppance straight out of Aesop’s Fables. If chirping could be converted into yards from scrimmage, the Steelers would be unbeatable. Instead, they’re just beat.

In these parts, the Steelers’ loss was a reminder to always be on to whoever the next opponent happened to be. Now, we were on to Jacksonville.

On Monday we heard Jalen Ramsey guarantee victory in both the AFC championship AND Super Bowl, and we debated. Was Ramsey guilty of trash talk or just confidence. Ramsey said what he said to a stadium full of Jaguars fans. That’s just throwing red meat to the lions. Vox populi, the voice of the people. Ramsey just gave the fans what they wanted.

That said, we took note of Ramsey’s words. We noted his swagger. We compared it to the Steelers, who we hoped spent the day canceling flights and hotel reservations.

On Tuesday we saw ghosts. To be specific, we saw one ghost, and his name is Tom Coughlin. As head coach of the New York Giants, Coughlin defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice. Now Coughlin is the executive vice president of football operations for the Jaguars. That pretty much means he helped pick the players on Jacksonville’s roster, and his game day duties amount to sitting in a luxury box high above the field, constantly looking pensive just in case the cameras catch a glimpse of him.

But to many in New England, Coughlin is Patriots kryptonite. Thinking of those two Super Bowl losses causes cold sweat and shakes. It’s an irrational fear, but this Coughlin bogeyman stalks the nightmares of many Patriots fans, like a football Freddy Krueger. The calm among us knew the Patriots were infinitely more concerned with Jacksonville’s players than the old man behind the curtain.

On Wednesday the three words “Tom Brady’s hand” drove many of us into a panic usually reserved for tax audits and meeting the parents. Brady canceled his press conference to meet with the medical staff. Specifics on the injury were scarce, and still are. Finally, we were told x-rays on Brady’s hand were negative, and had to remind ourselves in medical terms negative is good. Many of us went to bed with questions, though. In our dreams, we were chased by not only Coughlin, but Brady’s mangled right hand.

On Thursday we speculated. What’s wrong with Brady’s hand? Why did he wear those gloves? Why didn’t he practice? Is his hand gangrenous? Oh why oh why did the Patriots trade Jimmy Garoppolo?

Brady was on the field for warm-ups, but did not participate in practice. Can he play Sunday? How could he possibly play Sunday? How is Brian Hoyer’s hand? Will the dangerous Jaguars defense try to hit Brady in the right hand, maybe carry the hand home and mount it over the fireplace? Oh why oh why did the Patriots trade Jimmy Garoppolo?

It’s been said the temperature in New England rose two degrees that day. Meteorologists attribute the rise to the buildup of hot takes.

On Friday, we began to take the Jaguars seriously. Brady’s injury caused a mass moment of clarity. This Jacksonville team is pretty good, particularly on the defensive side. There are no dead solid locks in the NFL, particularly in the playoffs. Ask the Steelers.

More news trickled out regarding Brady’s hand, despite the best efforts of the quarterback and coach Bill Belichick to ignore the fist in the room. Brady wore gloves to his press conference and acted as if it was the most normal thing in the world. We began to hear, from “sources” that Brady threw the ball well in practice. That he had four stitches in his hand, or maybe three, That his thumb was jammed or cut or bruised, but it was certainly still opposable.

On Saturday, we calmed down, a little. Our eyes danced with the thoughts of Jacksonville’s defense, as good as it is, trying to defend all the Patriots weapons. We heard Ramsey said something to the effect of, Rob Gronkowski has never seen a cornerback like me. We looked at our own right hands, imagining where Brady’s stitches might be, if he indeed has stitches.

On Sunday, we watched football.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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