Jaguars executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin walks to...

Jaguars executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin walks to the field before a game against the Chargers at EverBank Field on Nov. 12, 2017 in Jacksonville. Credit: Getty Images / Logan Bowles

Tom Coughlin won’t be coaching the Jaguars against the Patriots in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, but his mere presence at Gillette Stadium will be a symbolic reminder of his impact on Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Coughlin now is the Jaguars’ director of football operations and his team has been the surprise of this year’s playoffs, eking out a 10-3 win over the Bills in the AFC wild-card round and shocking the Steelers, 45-42, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in Sunday’s divisional round.

Belichick’s Patriots are up next. The last two times he faced a team under Coughlin’s influence in the postseason? Those were the Patriots’ only two losses in their seven Super Bowl appearances under Belichick.

The Patriots are in the AFC Championship Game for the seventh straight season, and to get to the eighth Super Bowl in Belichick’s tenure, they must beat a Jaguars team that has been positively magnificent in bouncing back from a 3-13 season last year and winning the AFC South title. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone has been on the sideline for that run, but Coughlin’s influence in creating important changes to the team — including the drafting of rookie running back Leonard Fournette and the signing of free-agent defensive end Calais Campbell — has been undeniable.

The Patriots are favored to get past the Jaguars and into the Super Bowl on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, but Belichick now must face a team with a lead executive who has been his Super Bowl kryptonite. As a coach, Coughlin led the Giants to shocking wins over the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, with Eli Manning getting the best of Brady each time.

When he met with the media after Saturday night’s 35-14 win over the Titans and again on Sunday morning, Belichick didn’t know if he’d be facing the Steelers or Jaguars next week. He won’t address the Coughlin story line until Monday, but it will be a relevant theme in the run-up to next week’s game.

Coughlin watched Sunday’s shocking upset from the press box at Heinz Field and was a nervous wreck, muttering to himself throughout the game and even cursing as his team survived a wild finish. He’ll likely do the same in the Gillette Stadium press box, where the lead executives from opposing teams usually sit to watch games.

Coughlin may have been shown the door by the Giants after coaching his 12th season in 2015, but his competitive fires burn just as brightly now that he’s in the Jaguars’ front office. So even though Belichick won’t look across the field and see Coughlin on the Jacksonville sideline, the Jags certainly will reflect Coughlin’s pugnacious spirit as they face the NFL’s longest-running dynasty.

Belichick no doubt will downplay any outward significance of facing a team influenced so greatly by Coughlin, although the Patriots’ coach consistently has expressed respect for the former Giants coach. Both were on Bill Parcells’ staff when the Giants beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

As he always does, regardless of the circumstances, Belichick will concentrate on his own team and what the Patriots need to do to win. He was particularly pleased after the convincing win over the Titans, and it was yet another example of his remarkable ability to assimilate so many different players during a given season.

Surely Brady’s presence can’t be ignored as the one constant for a team that has dominated so many of the past 17 seasons, but Belichick’s skill at dealing with ever-changing rosters has been equally important to the team’s overall success.

No Rob Gronkowski in last year’s playoffs? No problem. The Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl title since 2001, in large part by focusing more attention on diminutive wide receiver Julian Edelman to make up for the injured tight end’s absence.

No Edelman this season? All good. Belichick has spread the ball around plenty, with Danny Amendola the latest to replace Edelman’s catches in Saturday night’s game. Amendola produced his first 100-yard receiving game in the postseason, leading New England with 11 catches for 112 yards, and drew effusive praise from Belichick afterward.

“Danny does a great job for us,” he said. “His ball handling, his reliability, dependability is exceptional. Danny has great concentration, tough, really a smart football player, makes good decisions, good judgment, knows how to get open, makes some big catches in tough situations. So he’s kind of a guy you take for granted, but he delivered a lot tonight, as he always does.”

Saturday’s win was a textbook example of the coach putting the right pieces together and producing another gem — or, as Belichick likes to put it, “a great team win.”

“I think you just have to give these guys a lot of credit,” he said of his players. “This group is this group. It’s not really about some other team or some other group, what they did or didn’t or have or haven’t done. But these guys come to work every day, they work hard, they compete well. They do what the coaches and what the staff ask them to do. They try to get better and they’re very professional and attentive to detail and work hard to improve. That’s really what we all need to do, is to keep working to improve and do a better job. They’ve done that. I think that’s shown up over the course of the season. I’m proud of the way they’ve gone about it.”

He hopes to be proud after Sunday’s game against the Jaguars, too, but he knows not to underestimate a team that is so new to the playoffs. After all, Belichick knows from experience that the man at the top won’t settle for anything less than victory.

More football news

DON'T MISS THIS LIMITED-TIME OFFER1 5 months for only $1Save on Unlimited Digital Access