The New England Patriots are going to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era after coming back to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship, 24-20.
It was all Jacksonville early, with the Jaguars jumping out to a 14-3 lead with a pair of lengthy, ball-control drives of 76 and 77 yards that each ended with touchdowns in the second quarter.
New England closed the gap with an 85-yard touchdown drive just before halftime, and slowly clawed back into contention. Facing a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Brady threw two touchdowns to Danny Amendola to give the Patriots a 24-20 lead with less than three minutes to play.
The Patriots will face the winner of the NFC Championship between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.
Here are six things that defined the come-from-behind win for the Patriots at Gillette Stadium:
Blake Bortles excelled early
It’s really no secret how the Jaguars plan to attack on offense: Leonard Fournette, Leonard Fournette, and a little more Leonard Fournette. No team finished the year with more rushing attempts and Fournette was one of only three players — along with Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott — who averaged more than 20 rushing attempts per game.
But that means every team loads the box and tries to force Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles to get the offense going. Often that slows Jacksonville to a crawl, but when Bortles can take advantage of a secondary it opens everything up.
Bortles finished with 23 completions on 36 attempts for 293 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He did particularly well off play action, including his 4-yard touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis.
He also made one of the best throws of the game when he hit Keelan Cole with a back shoulder throw about 30 yards down the field.
The Jaguars offense ultimately slowed in the fourth quarter, but Bortles’ strong start led to the big lead for Jacksonville.
Tom Brady was made uncomfortable
Brady was Brady, completing 26 of his 38 passes for 290 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. But he had to deal with much more of a pass rush against the Jaguars than he did a week ago against the Tennessee Titans.
The Jaguars defense only finished with three sacks, but Brady was hit on many plays and it appeared to really affect his pocket presence at times.
Each of the last two losses for the Patriots in the playoffs came against the Denver Broncos, another team with a vaunted pass rush. A week ago, the Titans didn’t sack Brady once as he racked up three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Disrupting Brady is key and the Jaguars had success slowing down the Patriots offense for much of the day.
Rob Gronkowski did little early and then got injured
The Patriots tight end finished the game with just one reception for 21 yards and his absence in the second half loomed large after he suffered a concussion in the second quarter.
The hit from Barry Church that took him out of the game drew a 15-yard penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact and his health will be a major storyline in the two weeks before the Super Bowl.
But Gronkowski absorbed the hit in the final two minutes of the first half. Before the injury, Gronk made little impact in the first 28 minutes of the game.
He was blanketed by a variety of Jaguars defensive backs, including Jalen Ramsey, who brought his trademark attitude — even when he wasn’t the one in coverage.
Sunday was the first postseason game in five years for Gronkowski that didn’t include at least one touchdown.
The Jaguars got the only turnover of the game
With the Patriots driving, New England dialed up a double pass trick play that appeared to work to perfection. But Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack made one of the plays of the game by ripping the ball from Dion Lewis and recovering the fumble.
Replay upheld the turnover and it was the only one of the game, helping the Jaguars preserve their small lead for a little while longer in the second half.
Tom Brady and Danny Amendola saved the day
Amendola’s pair of fourth quarter touchdowns erased a 20-10 lead for the Jaguars and his final catch included some impressive footwork in the back of the end zone.
Amendola finished with seven receptions for 84 yards against the tough Jaguars secondary and Brandin Cooks found success too with six receptions for 100 yards.
The Patriots defense came up clutch
After the Patriots finally took back the lead, the Jaguars immediately showed life with pass plays of 8 and 29 yards to get into New England territory. But a sack and forced fumble of Bortles pushed the Jaguars back and a fourth down throw to Dede Westbrook was broken up to give the Patriots the ball back.
The Patriots got one last first down on the ensuing possession and ended the season for Jacksonville to get back to the Super Bowl once again.