FOXBOROUGH — Roger Goodell didn’t want to come to New England to see the Patriots, so the Patriots are bringing New England to see him.
The Patriots booked their trip to Super Bowl LI in Houston Sunday night with a complete and thorough, 36-17 thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game at a packed and boisterous Gillette Stadium.
With the game firmly in hand midway through the fourth quarter, chants of “Where is Roger?” and “M-V-P” erupted throughout the stands.
The Patriots will face the Falcons in the big game after Atlanta ended Green Bay’s storybook ride with a 44-21 thrashing in the NFC title game earlier Sunday.
It will be New England’s record-setting ninth Super Bowl appearance and its second in three seasons. It also helped wash away the memories of last year’s loss to the Broncos in this game.
The win extended New England’s streak to nine while stopping Pittsburgh’s at the same number.
Tom Brady, as he has pretty much since his suspension ended in Week 5, was brilliant, shredding an overmatched Pittsburgh secondary. He completed 32 of 42 passes for a postseason franchise-record 384 yards, and he added three touchdowns.
“It was a good day,’’ said Brady. “We’re going to the Super Bowl. You gotta be happy now.’’
Martellus Bennett saw exactly what he expected to see from his quarterback.
“Tom did what Tom does,’’ said the tight end. “He was laser-focused.’’
The three-time Super Bowl MVP played pitch and catch with Chris Hogan all night as the receiver had a career game, catching nine passes for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Brady didn’t forget about his old buddy Julian Edelman, connecting with him eight times for 118 yards and a touchdown.
The game started in an odd way for the Patriots — at least by their standards. The hosts won the opening toss and chose to take the ball. As he so often has, Brady made them look like geniuses.
The quarterback came smoking out of the gates, engineering a six-play, 62-yard drive that ended with Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Brady went 4 for 5 on the drive, hitting four receivers — Bennett for 12 yards, Edelman for 22, Malcolm Mitchell for 5, and Danny Amendola for 4 — on consecutive plays.
A touchdown seemed inevitable until Mitchell’s drop on third down.
The teams traded three-and-outs before the Steelers mounted their first drive. It ended after six plays, however, when Malcolm Butler broke up a pass intended for his commercial buddy, Antonio Brown.
Brady then took his boys on a methodical, 11-play, 80-yard drive that featured a heavy dose of Hogan.
Brady hit Hogan four times for 58 yards on the drive, capping it with a 16-yard scoring strike in which the closest Steeler could have been ordering dinner at the CBS Scene.
Hogan got a clean break off the snap and hustled down the seam uncovered, raising his arms as he reached the end zone. Brady, with all the time in the world, hit him for a 10-0 lead.
Hogan also had catches of 4, 31, and 20 yards on the drive and except for the heating pad he wore between series, there was no sign he was nursing a thigh injury suffered last week.
The Steelers finally got on the board on their next drive, but it came at a cost as star running back Le’Veon Bell was lost with a left groin injury.
It was a grinding drive by the Steelers, who ran off 13 plays and chewed 6:16 off the clock. D’Angelo Williams, Bell’s replacement, capped the drive by following left guard Ramon Foster into the end zone from 5 yards. Chris Boswell shanked the extra point to leave the visitors in a 10-6 hole.
“It was on the second play of the game,’’ said Bell. “Obviously, I got banged up but I still tried to give it a go, I still tried to play. It just got progressively worse.’’
The Steelers’ deficit grew to 17-6 on the ensuing possession and again it was Hogan as the star attraction.
Taking over at the New England 18, Brady led a crushing nine-play drive, twice converting third-and-longs. First he hit Edelman with a 12-yard toss on third and 10 and then he connected with Hogan for 22 yards on third and 8.
The backbreaker came a play later courtesy of a little trickeration.
Brady handed to Dion Lewis, who pitched it back to Brady. He spotted Hogan (who else?) streaking down the right seam alone (OK, Mike Mitchell was in the 508 area code but not nearly close enough) and he waltzed in alone to increase the lead to 17-6.
“That was just a great call,’’ said Brady. “I think they were a little winded and got the pitch back from D-Lew and I saw Hoags burning up the field and laid it out for him.’’
The Steelers attempted to answer by putting together a 15-play, 70-yard drive but came up with just 3 points on Boswell’s 23-yard field goal. It was an impressive goal line stand for the Patriots, who dropped Williams for losses of 1 and 3 yards before Ben Roethlisberger’s pass to Eli Rogers was way off the mark on third down.
Brady headed to the locker room having completed 19 of 24 passes for 222 yards, with seven of those throws landing in Hogan’s hands for 117 yards. It was the first 100-yard game of Hogan’s postseason career and his first multiple-touchdown game.
The Patriots put the game out of reach in the third quarter, scoring 19 straight points (a Gostkowski field goal and touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount and Edelman) and adding 3 more in the fourth to extend their lead to 36-9.
Roethlisberger threw a 30-yard TD pass to Cobi Hamilton in garbage time and Williams for a 2-point conversion for Pittsburgh’s only points of the second half.
Watch: Ben Volin and Jim McBride break down the Patriots’ win
Tom Brady on Sunday finished with the fourth-most passing yards in an AFC Championship game since the 1970 merger, behind three fellow legends. But be warned: all three got blown out one game later in the Super Bowl.
|Dan Marino, Mia.||1984||421 (21 of 32, 4 TDs, 1 INT)|
|Peyton Manning, Den.||2013||400 (32 of 43, 2 TDs, 0 INT)|
|John Elway, Den.||1989||385 (20 of 36, 3 TDs, 0 INT)|
|Tom Brady, NE||2016||384 (32 of 42, 3 TDs, 0 INT)|
Note: Manning’s big game came against the Patriots. Brady threw for 277 yards that day.