The New England Patriots are officially on to their league-record ninth Super Bowl appearance, after dismantling the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 36-17 AFC Championship game win, Sunday night. 

Here are some initial thoughts following the game:

Nine- The win drove the Pats ahead of both the Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, who had been tied with them for most Super Bowl appearances at eight. New England now stands alone with nine Super Bowl trips, as they search for their fifth Lombardi Trophy.

Seven- The victory also puts Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in a class of his own, in regards to head coaching appearances in the Super Bowl. Belichick will take his seventh team to the big game, all of which are Patriots teams, breaking a tied with former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula for most trips as a head coach. The win also sends the Pats to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in the Belichick-Brady Era.

Hogan Has Himself A Day- Patriots receiver Chris Hogan had himself quite the day, in the 36-17 victory, as he led the way for the Patriot passing game. On the game, Hogan set a franchise playoff single game record for receiving yards as he totaled 180 of them throughout the night. Hogan caught nine of the 12 passes thrown his way and also scored two touchdowns. You would think that after a first half that saw him catch seven of eight balls for 117 yards and the two scores that the Steelers would clamp down on the wiry deep threat. No such luck for Pittsburgh fans, however, as Hogan racked up another 63 second half yards and led the way to a second half route.

Not To Be Outdone- Not to be outdone but Hogan's huge day, Tom Brady's favorite target Julian Edelman also had himself quite the evening. Edelman recorded his ninth consecutive 6-catch postseason game, putting him one behind record holder and former teammate Wes Welker. He also eclipsed 100 yards, finishing the game with 118 yards and a score.

A Career-High- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady further solidified his dominance in the playoffs by setting a new career-high in passing yards for a single postseason game with 384. Brady, once again, carved up the Pittsburgh defense, as he typically has done throughout his career. Doing whatever he wanted, Brady completed 32 of his 42 pass attempts to nine different receivers and posted a QBR of 127.5. Brady also tied his boyhood idol Joe Montana for the most three touchdown passing efforts in postseason history with his ninth such effort Sunday. The 39-year-old used the hurry up offense to slice through Pittsburgh's laughably unconvincing defense.

Shut 'Em Down- The Pats sailed in the conference championship in large part to a solid defensive effort that saw their league-best scoring defense shut down the Steelers offense. The New England defense held the power-packed Pittsburgh offense to just 17 points on the night, including seven that came after the game was all but over. After allowing nine points in the first half, the Patriots held the Steelers scoreless until there was just over three and a half minutes left in the second half. It was another dominant performance by the solid defense.

Silencing The Run- While they only rushed for 57 yards on offense, the Pats defense held Pittsburgh to even less of a ground game, as the Steelers gained just 54 rushing yards. Coming in, a lot of talk was set around stopping Pittsburgh's dynamic and dangerous running back Le'Veon Bell and, while they bottled him up early, the Pats got even more of a boost as Bell left with a leg injury in the second quarter and only touched the ball once in the second half. With back up DeAngelo Williams in the game, the Pats further stifled their opponent's running game. The veteran carried the ball 14 times for just 34 yards.

3-0- The Pats are now a solid 3-0 against Pittsburgh in AFC Championship games. New England has now beat the Steelers for the right to get into the Super Bowl in the 2001, 2004 and 2016 seasons.

Another game, another blowout win and the Pats are on to Houston, as they look to secure a fifth Super Bowl victory. They'll battle the Atlanta Falcons and their high-powered offense in two weeks, but for now they can relax a bit and relish in another AFC title.





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