How the Patriots Came Back to Win the A.F.C. Championship
The New England Patriots were down 20-10 early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s A.F.C. Championship game. Little had worked for the Patriots all day, but like Tom Brady has so many times over the years, the 40-year-old quarterback kept his cool and led the Patriots to a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It would have been shocking for any other team and quarterback, but seemed par for the course in this case.
With the win, Brady will go to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in his 18-year career, and he will be in search of his sixth career championship. The Patriots will face the winner of Sunday night’s N.F.C. Championship gamebetween the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles.
For the Jaguars to get so close only to fall apart after a Cinderella-like season seemed especially cruel, with Blake Bortles outplaying Brady for much of the game only to have New England make some tremendous second-half adjustments that essentially eliminated Jacksonville’s offense from the game.
New England and Brady survived losing their top receiver, Rob Gronkowski, to a concussion in the first half on a brutal helmet-to-helmet collision with Jacksonville’s hard-hitting safety Barry Church. Gronkowski came up from the hit looking disoriented and was immediately taken to the locker room for evaluation, being ruled out for the rest of the game shortly after.
Brady ended up completing 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns on the day, helping his team survive against one of the N.F.L.’s top defensive units. Bortles was nearly as good, completing 23 of 36 for 293 with one touchdown, but with Leonard Fournette unable to provide much in the way of a rushing attack, New England was able to attack Bortles far more aggressively as the game progressed, and that seemed to provide the difference.
Patriots’ first drive ends with a field goal.
New England is up 3-0 after a drive that showed some serious promise before fizzling out in the red zone.
The Patriots got the ball first and Tom Brady immediately completed a 5-yard pass to Dion Lewis and a 31-yarder to Brandin Cooks. The offense then managed just 8 yards on three short plays — a short run by Brady, a reverse to Rex Burkhead and a short completion to Burkhead — before aggressively going for it on 4th-and-2 with Brady tossing a high floater of a pass that somehow found its way into Danny Amendola’s hands for a 20-yard gain, putting the Patriots in the red zone.
Jacksonville then tightened things up considerably, and a sack on 3rd-and-goal from the 12-yard line forced New England to send Stephen Gostkowski in for the 31-yard kick.
Despite having a stitched-up hand that was the subject of a great deal of speculation, Brady looked perfectly comfortable on the opening drive, completing all six of his passes for 57 yards.
Dropped passes hurt Jaguars as drive stalls out.
The Jaguars stayed true to their style of football on their opening drive, running the ball and going for conservative passes, but a pair of dropped balls resulted in them punting away the ball after picking up 23 yards.
Jacksonville started the drive from their own 26-yard line and they alternated between runs up the middle by Leonard Fournette and passes by Blake Bortles, which were on their mark even if they lacked much zip on them.
But after picking up two quick first downs, the Jaguars stalled thanks to a badly dropped pass by T.J. Yeldon on 2nd-and-8 from the Jacksonville 49-yard line, and a more difficult drop from Marqise Lee on 3rd-and-8.
Often mocked, the Jaguars succeeded this season by executing their game plan each and every week. Dropping easy passes that Bortles threw accurately could be a major problem.
Tom Brady’s not done yet.
Repeatedly throwing deep down field, Tom Brady and the Patriots showed they are still fighting in this game, and they went 85 yards on 8 plays, with Danny Amendola diving into the end zone for a touchdown, that made it a 20-17 game.
The Patriots dodged a bullet on their previous drive when a fumble by Dion Lewis gave the Jaguars a huge scoring opportunity that they proceeded to immediately waste. Jacksonville’s three-and-out gave Brady the ball back on his own 15-yard line, and as so many teams have found out over the years, the more opportunities you give Brady, the worse off your team tends to be.
The 40-year-old quarterback, who was supposed to be limited by an injured hand, endured a sack by Marcell Dareus on the drive, but looked spry and aggressive, challenging Jacksonville’s star-studded secondary and repeatedly finding success.
Brady has now completed 23 of 32 passes for 263 yards against the most talented secondary in the N.F.L.
Patriots grab the lead on Amendola’s circus catch.
It had been a defensive clinic for both teams over the last few drives, but the Patriots showed why experience is so valuable in the N.F.L. by taking a 24-20 lead thanks to Danny Amendola’s circus catch in the back of the end zone. It was Amendola’s second touchdown of the quarter.
The Patriots started the drive on Jacksonville’s 30-yard line after a series of punts by both teams finally broke New England’s way with a 20-yard return by Danny Amendola giving them a short field.
New England then went into automatic mode, with a series of short runs and passes pushing the ball into the end zone in a span of 2 minutes and 10 seconds of game clock.
Jacksonville has plenty of time to score, but with New England’s defense having tightened up considerably, that could be very difficult unless the Jaguars have something hidden up their collective sleeve.
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