For the seventh time in the last 16 seasons, the New England Patriots will play in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will look to become the first to ever win five championship rings after the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 36-17, in the AFC Championship.
It was one of the best postseason performances of Tom Brady’s career, as the 12-time Pro Bowler finished with 384 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. In seven career meetings against the Mike Tomlin-led Steelers, Brady has now thrown 22 touchdowns without a single interception.
The Patriots jumped on the Steelers early with a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, but it was a 19-0 start to the second half for New England that buried Pittsburgh.
Brady finished the first half with two touchdown passes, connecting with Chris Hogan for each score. The second came on a flea-flicker play that drew Steelers safety Mike Mitchell close to the line of scrimmage and allowed Hogan to run free for a 34-yard touchdown bomb:
But what may have been most impressive about New England’s performance Sunday was the shutdown showing of the Patriot defense against Ben Roethlisberger and the explosive Steeler offense.
Roethlisberger finished the day with 314 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His only touchdown came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter when the Patriots were well in control. He finished without a touchdown pass in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, but he had the play of Le’Veon Bell to complement the pass offense.
Bell suffered a groin injury early in the game and finished with only 20 yards on six carries. While DeAngelo Williams scored a touchdown in his place, the veteran running back managed just 34 rushing yards on 14 carries, and Bell’s contributions were sorely missed.
Roethlisberger appeared to connect with tight end Jesse James for a touchdown late in the second quarter, but a review showed he was just short.
Pittsburgh squandered the goal line opportunity and was eventually forced to settle for a field goal. Another red zone chance came in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers again were unable to punch in a touchdown, instead turning the ball over on downs with an unsuccessful fade attempt to Cobi Hamilton.
That drive also had what appeared to be a touchdown pass for Roethlisberger, but it was nullified by an illegal touching penalty.
Antonio Brown was also relatively quiet Sunday, finishing with 77 receiving yards on seven receptions while dealing with double coverage for much of the day.
With the win, the Patriots advance to face the Falcons, who are vying for their first ever Super Bowl victory. Atlanta’s only other trip was in Jan. 1999, but the Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII.
The Patriots have much more history on the biggest stage with four titles, all of which came during the Belichick and Brady era. Chuck Noll is the only other coach with four Super Bowl victories, and Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw are the only other quarterbacks to achieve that feat.
Brady is the all-time leader in every major passing category in the playoffs and reached 60 career postseason touchdowns Sunday. His already tremendous resume has a chance to get even better now.