FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots are headed to the Super Bowl for the third time in the last four years, the eighth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, and the tenth time in franchise history.
A fourth-down pass break-up by big-ticket free agent signee Stephon Gilmore with under two minutes to play effectively ended the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Cinderella season, and sealed yet another AFC championship game win, 24-20, for the Patriots.
The Patriots’ success might get old for NFL followers who aren’t Patriots fans, but it never gets old for New England.
You can’t always sense the moment a game turns, but on Sunday evening, you could.
It came with 10:49 to play in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots trailing the impressive Jaguars by 10 points. The Patriots were facing third-and-18 after Tom Brady had taken an eight-yard sack on first down, and overthrew Chris Hogan on a deep pass on second.
But on third down, Brady looked to Danny Amendola, and Amendola made a 21-yard catch, the latest in a string of impressive January catches the receiver has made with New England. The next play was a flea-flicker, a 31-yard pickup to Phillip Dorsett, his only catch of the game, and three plays later the Patriots were in the end zone, again after a pass to Amendola.
It wasn’t the go-ahead touchdown – that came later – but you could feel the tide turn.
New England got the go-ahead touchdown with 2:56 to play, another Brady-to-Amendola touchdown, the culmination of a five-play, 30-yard drive. The Patriots had a short field after the defense forced a Jaguars three-and-out deep in their own half of the field, and Amendola took Brad Nortman’s punt at midfield and returned it to the Jaguars’ 30.
Brady, who was the subject of much hand-wringing (wink, wink) this week after an injury to his right thumb in practice, was, as expected, stellar in the fourth quarter, going 9 of 14 for 138 yards and the two touchdowns to Amendola.
“I said, ‘we’ll see’ – so how’d it go?,” Brady asked the fans after the game, drawing a big cheer. He called his injury a “pretty good cut,” and credited his teammates with the team’s success.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles had arguably the game of his NFL career, playing mistake-free and completing 23-of-36 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown.
As noted by CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz during the Lamar Hunt Trophy presentation, Sunday is the 24th anniversary of Robert Kraft’s purchase of the Patriots’ franchise, and the team scored 24 points.
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