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Chris Hogan is yet another weapon in the Patriots’ never-ending arsenal

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The Patriots saw Hogan’s talent when they scooped him up in free agency, and he torched the Steelers in the AFC Championship.

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
Pew! Pew! Pew!
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Hogan played one year of college football. He had 12 receptions for 147 yards for three touchdowns over the course of a full season.

Chris Hogan has played in one AFC Championship. He had nine receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns over the course of 60 minutes.

The former is the kind of mark that turns potential pro football players into insurance salesmen. The latter is the kind of performance that goes down in the record books for one of the league’s most successful franchises.

It’s safe to say the former lacrosse standout has found his groove in New England. The former Buffalo Bill was due for a breakout year after being lured from upstate New York in free agency last summer. The jump from Tyrod Taylor to Tom Brady alone stood to boost his stats significantly. However, few could have predicted he’d set a team playoff record for most receiving yards in a single game. He had the biggest game of his life in the biggest game of his life — at least until a Super Bowl LI showdown with the Falcons in two weeks.

Hogan developed into the kind of deep threat Brady and the Patriots had been missing at wide receiver since Randy Moss was shipped out to Minneapolis in 2010. Through the regular season and playoffs, he’s caught 51 passes for 955 yards in 17 games. His 18.7 yards per catch average is the second-highest single-season mark the team has seen in the Tom Brady era (minimum 10 catches). The only player ahead of him? The 2016 version of Rob Gronkowski, who averaged 21.6 yards per catch before getting injured.

In his stead, the Patriots have replaced the top statistical deep threat of the Brady era with the No. 2 guy. On Sunday, we got to see how well that can work.

Hogan’s two touchdowns came on blown assignments and trickeration. The Steelers straight up forgot to cover him on the first one:

Then he slipped behind the defense on a flea flicker for the second:

However, the rest of his nine-catch performance showcased what a dynamic threat he can be. He caught a 4-yard swing pass in the first quarter, then followed that with a deep ball down the left sideline that broke for 26 yards.

As Hogan heated up, the Steelers adjusted to his game-breaking plays — but the Patriots did as well. Julian Edelman used the threat of his teammate’s downfield speed to find windows near the line of scrimmage. With Hogan pulling safeties over the top or toward the sideline, Edelman had the space to move the chains. The Pro Bowl wideout finished the game with eight receptions, six of which either resulted in first downs or touchdowns.

The duo redeemed an offense whose other weapons struggled in stages Sunday. LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis combined for just 58 yards on 22 carries. Martellus Bennett dealt with minor injury issues and finished the day with only 32 receiving yards. Malcolm Mitchell caught only one of the four passes thrown his way.

But none of that mattered, thanks to the breakout game from the Monmouth alum. The most dangerous thing about the New England Patriots are the many ways they can beat an opponent. On Sunday, they showed the Steelers a former college lacrosse star is sometimes just what you need to expose an opponent’s fatal flaw.