Patriots head to the Super Bowl to play the Eagles
All week, a region was gripped by a right hand injury to its beloved quarterback.
On Sunday evening, Tom Brady stood on a stage in the middle of the field at Gillette Stadium with red and blue confetti fluttering down around him, marking yet another Super Bowl berth for the New England Patriots. With black tape on that injured right thumb, Brady held the Lamar Hunt Trophy, fielding a few questions from CBS announcer Jim Nantz.
“Everyone’s been clamoring since Wednesday to know as much as we can with any specificity about the injury. What can you tell us?” Nantz asked the quarterback, who is going to his eighth Super Bowl.
“Well, I said, ‘We’ll see,’ ” Brady said with a coy smile. “So, how’d it go?”
The crowd erupted, basking in the Patriots’ 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It went pretty good,” said Brady, who finished with 290 yards and two touchdowns on 26-of-38 passing.
New England will play in its second consecutive Super Bowl, third in four years, and 10th overall with a chance to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for most Lombardi Trophies.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Brady said in his CBS postgame interview on the field, appearing to fight back tears. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. Just to be on a team that wins these kinds of games . . . I’m just so proud of every guy on our team.”
Trailing, 20-10, early in the fourth quarter without the ever-valuable Rob Gronkowski, who left with a head injury in the second quarter, Brady turned to receiver Danny Amendola, nicknamed Danny “Playoff” Amendola last week by his All-Pro tight end.
The clutch quarterback and receiver found great success on the Patriots’ final two scoring drives with Brady targeting Amendola six times. They connected on all but one for 56 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score, a 4-yarder with 2:48 left.
“We said whatever it takes,” Brady said. “That was a great second half. Just so proud of our team. Amazing, amazing.”
Meanwhile in the fourth quarter, the Patriots’ defense put the clamps on quarterback Blake Bortles and the Jaguars’ offensive attack. Through three quarters, Bortles completed 18 of 23 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. But in the final frame, the fourth-year man managed just five completions on 13 attempts for 68 yards as the Jaguars punted three times and turned it over on downs once over their final four possessions.
“We got a lot of guys that really fight, that never give up, that know how to play good situational football,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Really proud of these players. They did a great job today.”
Below are updates as they happened during the game.
4th quarter: Patriots 24, Jaguars 20
The Patriots took the lead for the first time since the first quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Danny Amendola. It was his second touchdown catch of the game.
Amendola churned out a 20-yard punt return to set up the drive at the Jacksonville 30-yard line.
Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus were injured on the drive. Jack was helped off the field by trainers and taken to the locker room on a cart.
During the Brady era, the Patriots have 12 go-ahead fourth quarter or overtime drives in the playoffs. The Saints (nine) are the only other team with more than seven in that time.
4th quarter: Jaguars 20, Patriots 17
Quarterback Tom Brady threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola to cut the Jacksonville lead to 3 midway through the fourth quarter.
It was arguably the Patriots’ best drive of the game, going 85 yards in eight plays and doing it mostly with chunk plays. Brady completed passes of 18 yards, 21 yards, 31 yards (on a flea flicker), 14 yards, and the touchdown.
The game’s first turnover
Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack forced running back Dion Lewis to a fumble, and Jack recovered it at the Jacksonville 33-yard line. The turnover came on a double pass by the Patriots that saw receiver Danny Amendola complete the pass to Lewis, who gained 22 yards before Jack forced the fumble. It was the first fumble Lewis has lost this season.
4th quarter: Jaguars 20, Patriots 10
Josh Lambo made a 43-yard field goal to make it a two score game at the start of the fourth quarter.
3rd quarter: Jaguars 17, Patriots 10
Josh Lambo made a 54-yard field goal on the first possession of the second half to extend the Jaguars’ lead. It capped a nine-play, 39-yard drive.
Lambo’s 54-yarder is the longest field goal in Jaguars postseason history.
Left tackle Cam Robinson was injured on the possession and was ruled questionable to return with a shoulder injury. He returned on the following series.
Yards: NE 137, JAX 209
Plays: NE 27, JAX 33
Yards per play: NE 5.1, JAX 6.3
First downs: NE 10, JAX 14
Third down efficiency: NE o-5, JAX 4-6
Penalties-yards: NE 1-10, JAX 5-62
Time of possession: NE 11:38, JAX 18:22
Tom Brady: 12 of 17, 124 yards, 91.3 rating
Blake Bortles: 13 of 15, 155 yards, 131.9 rating
2nd quarter: Jaguars 14, Patriots 10
Running back James White ran it into the end zone from 1 yard out for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the contest.
The Patriots, aided by 32-yard pass interference call on cornerback A.J. Bouye, drove 85 yards in six plays to trim the Jaguars’ lead just before halftime.
New England has now scored in the final two minutes of the first half in 14 of its 18 games this season.
On the drive, tight end Rob Gronkowski was downgraded to out with a head injury. He came up woozy after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the second quarter by safety Barry Church, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play.
Gronkowski was helped to the sideline by members of the training staff and went straight to the locker room.
Another postseason mark for Gronkowski
Gronkowski entered Sunday’s game with 835 receiving yards in his postseason career, second all-time behind Dallas Clark (847) for a tight end in the playoffs.
His first catch against the Jaguars went for 21 yards, moving him into first on that list.
2nd quarter: Jaguars 14, Patriots 3
Running back Leonard Fournette extended Jacksonville’s lead with a 4-yard touchdown run.
The score capped another long drive by the Jaguars: It was a 10-play, 77-yard trek that included four plays of 10 or more yards.
The Patriots got a heavy dose of Fournette on the possession as the rookie out of LSU carried it five times for 23 yards.
Quarterback Blake Bortles again completed all of his pass attempts on the drive, going 4 of 4 for 47 yards. He is now 12 of 14 for 129 yards and the TD.
2nd quarter: Jaguars 7, Patriots 3
Quarterback Blake Bortles connected with tight end Marcedes Lewis on a play-action pass to score a 4-yard touchdown.
The Jaguars’s drive was 76 yards in seven plays and included two long catch-and-runs by Corey Grant, one for 20 yards and the other for 24 yards.
Bortles completed all five of his pass attempts during the possession and is now 8 of 10 for 82 yards on the game.
When Bortles doesn’t turn it over, Jacksonville wins: The Jaguars are 10-0 this year when he doesn’t get picked. He threw at least one interception in all six of Jacksonville’s losses.
1st quarter: Patriots 3, Jaguars 0
The Patriots scored the first points of the contest by way of a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. It capped a 10-play, 62-yard drive.
The possession was highlighted by a 31-yard completion from Tom Brady to Brandin Cooks and a fourth-down conversion from Brady to Danny Amendola for 20 yards. Brady is 5 of 6 this year on fourth-down passes.
Brady, showing no signs of being slowed by his right hand injury, completed all six pass attempts on the drive for 57 yards. He was sacked once as Cam Fleming, who is starting at right tackle in place of the inactive LaAdrian Waddle, couldn’t handle Dante Fowler’s speed around the edge.
The quarterback is 3-4 in the playoffs when being sacked at least three times, and is 22-5 when being sacked no more than twice.
Since 2001, the Patriots are 17-4 (.810) in the playoffs when scoring first, 9-5 (.643) when opponent scores first.
The Jaguars called heads, and the coin came up heads. Jacksonville chose to defer. The Patriots will receive the opening kickoff.
Tom Brady’s hand
Quarterback Tom Brady is wearing a piece of black tape on his injured right hand, but no glove. During warmups, Brady took a snap from under center, was throwing a nice spiral, and did not look affected by the injury. Brady also had a brief conversation with coach Bill Belichick that included a lot of head nods.
Here is video of Brady throwing during warmups:
Brady kept his injured right hand concealed in a coat pocket as he walked to the Patriots’ locker room at Gillette Stadium Sunday morning. His left hand was in his pocket as well, but his right is the one of high interest across the football landscape after Brady injured it in practice this week.
The Globe’s Jim McBride reported, via a league source, that Brady will play Sunday and the Patriots aren’t expecting “any major problems.”
For the Patriots, running back Mike Gillislee, tight end Jacob Hollister, defensive lineman Alan Branch, receiver Kenny Britt, offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, receiver Bernard Reedy, and linebacker David Harris are inactive.
New England is a little thin on the offensive line with Waddle inactive. Cam Fleming will start at right tackle with Ted Karras and Cole Croston serving as the two backups.
Running back Rex Burkhead is active. Tom Brady’s weapons for the day are Burkhead and fellow running backs Dion Lewis, James White, and Brandon Bolden, receivers Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Phillip Dorsett, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, and fullback James Develin.
For the Jaguars, running back Chris Ivory, defensive tackle Eli Ankou, linebacker Deon King, defensive end Carroll Phillips, and offensive linemen Chris Reed, Josh Walker, and William Poehls are inactive.
That means safety Tashaun Gipson (foot) is active. He did not participate in practice Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday.
Warm it up
Here are a few photos from pregame warmups:
Welcome to Gameday
It is the AFC Championship Game and the top-seeded Patriots play host to the third-seeded Jacksonville Jaguars with a spot in Super Bowl LII on the line.
New England is coming off a sound 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round while Jacksonville defeated Pittsburgh, 45-42.
If the Patriots win, they will play in their second consecutive Super Bowl, third in four years, and 10th overall with a chance to tie the Steelers for most Lombardi Trophies.
If the Jaguars win, they will play in the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
Kickoff: 3:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: CBS / 98.5
■ How the Patriots and Jaguars match up: Here is a position-by-position breakdown, with a look at who has the edge.
■ Here are five things Ben Volin suggests to keep your eye on throughout this matchup: 1) Tom Brady’s hand. 2) Stopping the Jaguars on first down. 3) How cornerback Jalen Ramsey is used. 4) The Patriots’ back-side discipline. 5) Fakes by the Jaguars.
■ How the Patriots’ defensive front seemed to get better as the season wore on: The team brought in quick studies who listened, rookies proved themselves up to the challenge, and a pair of veterans held it all together.
■ Dan Shaughnessy: Tom Brady will play. The Patriots will win. And the rest of America will keep hating.
■ Notebook: Receiver Chris Hogan is back healthy just in time.
■ The Patriots are ready for the Jaguars’ aggressive fourth-down approach.
■ This Jaguars’ defense knows how to score points.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated and The MMQB joined Chris Gasper to share his insights on the Patriots and championship weekend.
Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union joined Gasper to break down the Jags and talk about how Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick’s history might impact this game.
A few notes on the Patriots and Jaguars
■ Linebacker James Harrison said Friday he hadn’t touched base with any of his former Steelers teammates after their loss to Jacksonville, but he took no extra pleasure in getting to face the Jaguars. “I’m just happy that we’re here to play against somebody,’’ Harrison said. He believes he knows the key to Sunday’s game. “I think the big thing we need to do is try and slow down the run game,’’ Harrison said. “That way it’ll slow down [Blake] Bortles’s ability to do play-action passes. They get a lot of their yards from play-action passes.’’
■ The Patriots are 21-4 at home in the playoffs, including 2-0 against the Jaguars.
■ The Patriots had the No. 1 overall offense (394.2 yards per game), while the Jaguars had the No. 1 rushing offense (141.4) in the regular season.
■ Brady is 5-0 vs. Jacksonville.
— Jim McBride, Globe Staff
■ Celtics guard/forward Jaylen Brown said he’ll be paying close attention to the AFC Championship game, but not because of the Patriots. His cousin is Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye, who led the team with six interceptions this year.
“I hope my cousin picks off Brady three times and takes it to the house,” Brown said Thursday.
He said he plans to be at Gillette Stadium — in a Bouye jersey — but he’ll be a late arrival with the Celtics hosting the Magic at 1 p.m. Bouye was college roommates at Central Florida with Brown’s brother, Quenton.
■ Quietly, the Jaguars put up the NFL’s second-best red-zone touchdown percentage this season. Their 64 percent success rate seems surprising for a team that earned a reputation for being carried by its defense.
■ Jacksonville ranked second in the NFL with a 76.9 percent success rate on fourth down, converting 10 of 13.
— Julian Benbow, Globe Staff
■ The Patriots have scored 30 or more points in four straight playoff games.
■ New England is 9-4 in AFC title games, including 5-1 at Gillette Stadium.
■ With a win Sunday, New England will tie Green Bay and Dallas for second-most playoff wins. The Patriots enter the day with 33.
■ This is Belichick’s 12th conference championship game, extending his NFL record, and his 38th postseason contest, most in league history.
■ Brady and Belichick are going for their 27th postseason victory as a coach-quarterback duo. Their 26 wins are the most all-time, the next closest being Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw with 14.
■ The Patriots are 7-0 when Dion Lewis gaines 100 or more yards from scrimmage, as he did against the Titans a week ago (141 yards).
■ Rob Gronkowski enters the day with 10 receiving touchdowns in the postseason, third-most in history. He trails John Stallworth’s 12 and Jerry Rice’s 22.
■ Gronkowski is 12 yards from passing Dallas Clark for most receiving yards by a tight end in postseason history. Gronkowski is sitting at 835.
■ Stephen Gostkowski has scored in 23 straight postseason contests, third all-time behind David Akers (24) and Adam Vinatieri (30).