Pats Pull Off Comeback Win, Head To Super Bowl LII
Things looked bleak for the New England Patriots, as the AFC Title game shifted to the fourth quarter with the defending champs down by 10 points. As they've done time and time again, however, Tom Brady and company buckled their chinstraps, locked themselves in and put together a comeback for the ages, to steal the AFC Championship away from the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20, at Gillette Stadium.
Blitz For 6- The Patriots now set their sights on a sixth Super Bowl championship, as they'll head to Super Bowl LII in Minnesota. The Blitz for 6 will get underway on Sunday, Feb. 4. The Super Bowl trip will be New England's eighth such venture in the Brady/Belichick era. That is truly historic stuff.
Danny "Playoff" Amendola- The star of the game for the Patriots has to be diminutive, veteran wide receiver Danny Amendola. Nicknamed Danny "Playoff" Amendola by teammate Rob Gronkowski, after his career-high 11 playoff catches in last week's win over the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional round, Amendola raised his postseason stock to another with a massive performance Sunday. The veteran wideout caught a game-high seven passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Not only did Amendola perform on the final drive, securing two catches for 12 yards and the go-ahead score, but the savvy slot receiver also set the drive up with a tremendous fake out of the Jags punt coverage unit. Amendola appeared to wave off players coming down the field, which looked like but was not the same gesture that would have signaled a fair catch. With defenders seemingly slowing up, Amendola caught the poor punt and hit a whole to move the ball up the field to the Jacksonville 30. Five plays later, the Pats were on top for the first time on the day. Amendola also had a clutch, 21-yard catch, over the middle of the field, on 3rd & 18 late in the game, that led to his first touchdown of the game. To cap it off, Amedola also added a pass completion on a trick play in the second half. All in all, Amedola's fingerprints are all over this game.
No Gronk, No Problem- Not only did the Pats have to battle back all game long, but they had to do it without their All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, from the final two minutes of the first half through the remainder of the game. Gronkowski, who became the all-time postseason leader for receiving yard by a tight end just a couple of plays prior, was leveled by Jaguars safety Barry Church, with the Pats driving in the final two minutes of the first half. After wobbling to his feet, Gronkowski was whisked off the field and went right to the locker room. Late in the third quarter, Gronkowski was officially ruled out for the game. He'll now have two weeks to get himself healthy for the Super Bowl.
Just A Cut- As he explained in the most depth since sustaining the injury, Tom Brady said, after the win, that his hand injury was more or less a bit of a deep cut. Brady played like the injury wasn't really bothering him, as he carved up the Jacksonville defense, completing 26 of his 38 pass attempts to seven different receivers for 290 yards and two scores. Brady, who was, as usual, relied upon heavily, as the Pats run game was somewhat non-existent on the day, was brilliant, showing little to no side effects from the injury. His stitches stayed intact and the GOAT dealt another beautiful outing.
50/50- Here's a wild stat for all you readers at home. Tom Brady has now made it to the Super Bowl in exactly half (eight) of his 16 full seasons in the NFL. That is simply absurd. It's basically a coin flip that Brady and the Pats will go to the Super Bowl every single season.
Cooks Shows Up- Though he did have one big drop, early in the second half, first year Patriot wideout Brandin Cooks put together a strong showing in his first title game outing. The deep ball threat caught six passes for a game-high 100 yards on eight targets. He also drew a pair of defensive pass interference calls on the Jacksonville secondary, which totaled another 68 yards of offense for the Patriots and came on two of the team's three touchdown-scoring drives. The speedster definitely made a difference in the win, as he was brought in this off-season to do.
Worth Every Cent- Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who signed an extremely lucrative, five-year, $65 million free agent deal this off-season, has spent most of the season under heavy scrutiny for not living up to the money given to him. The lanky defensive back proved to be worth every cent of that deal, however, on the team's final defensive play, reaching out and knocking down a Blake Bortles pass that was intended for rookie receiver Dede Westbrook. Gilmore's pass breakup proved to be a huge play, as the Jaguars never got a chance to touch the ball again.
Figuring It Out- With the offense seeing much of the praise for their late rally, the Patriot defense should also get a fair share of credit for the win. After allowing two, tough-to-watch touchdown drives in the first half, the bend-but-don't-break unit held the Jags to just two field goals over the final 30 minutes of the game. The Patriot defense, after yielding a field goal at the very end of the third quarter, was stellar over the final quarter of play, as well. On four fourth-quarter drives, the New England defense forced Jacksonville to punt the ball three times and turn the ball over on downs once. Over those four drives, the Pats allowed the Jags to gain just 62 yards of total offense 17 plays and forced two three-and-outs. The offense might have scored the big touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the defense gave them the chances to do so, continually.