|Sunday, January 21, 2018|
|National Football League|
Brady leads Patriots back to Super Bowl, top Jaguars 24-20
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr. - AP Sports Writer
Sunday, January 21 at 10:03 PM (EST)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Give `em a hand: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl.
Brady shook off a hand injury and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 remaining , rallying the Patriots to a 24-20 comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship Sunday.
Brady, wearing a black bandage on his right hand after needing stitches to close a cut that happened on a play during practice earlier in the week, showed no signs of being hampered.
And, with the game - and the season - possibly on the line, the Patriots star came up big again.
''I've had a lot worse,'' Brady said. ''I didn't know that on Wednesday. It was a crazy injury. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was a little scary. Then I started getting some confidence and today we did just enough to win.''
Brady finished 26 of 38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns to Amendola for the Patriots (15-3), who'll play Philadelphia in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.
It's the eighth Super Bowl appearance for Brady and coach Bill Belichick, who have won five times - including last year's 34-28 overtime rally against the Atlanta Falcons.
''It's pretty amazing. Just to be on a team that wins these kinds of games, it's just a great accomplishment,'' Brady said. ''I'm just so proud of everyone on our team, we made so many great plays. Defense played so great when they needed to.''
Blake Bortles and the Jaguars (12-7) led 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold against the defending champions. The NFL's second-ranked defense kept Brady and the Patriots at bay for most of the game, but lost linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on consecutive plays on New England's winning drive.
''It's a locker room obviously with a lot of pain,'' Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. ''I'm sure they're hurting inside. I'm hurting. The players are hurting.''
With New England trailing 20-17, Amendola returned a punt 20 yards to put the ball at the Jaguars 30. Brady hit James White for 15 yards, Amendola for 8 and then the quarterback ran up the middle for 2 yards and a first down.
On first-and-goal from the 5, White ran for a yard to set up the go-ahead score from Brady to Amendola.
Jacksonville - looking to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history - had one more shot, but Bortles' throw on fourth-and-15 to Dede Westbrook was knocked away by Stephon Gilmore.
''Guys are upset,'' Bortles said. ''It's not what anybody expects - contrary to popular belief. Those guys fully expected to win that game.''
The Patriots ran out the clock, with Dion Lewis' 18-yard scamper with 90 seconds remaining sealing the victory. And they played most of the game without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left late in the first half and didn't return.
Brady's hand was the most-scrutinized body part in Boston since his ankle before the 2008 Super Bowl, and Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's right ankle tendon - the bloody sock - in the 2004 playoffs.
Brady hurt his right hand during practice earlier in the week.
''Of all the plays, my season wasn't going to end on a handoff in practice,'' Brady said.
''Mentally, it probably stressed him out a bit,'' Amendola said. ''It's hard to throw a football with stitches in your thumb. Everybody knows how tough he is.''
Some Patriots fans were worried, but not Belichick.
''He's a tough guy, we all know that,'' Belichick said. ''But we're not talking about open heart surgery here.''
Brady warmed up without a glove on his hand, and he came out throwing. He completed his first six passes for 57 yards to march the Patriots down the field. The drive stalled when Brady was sacked by Dante Fowler Jr., and New England settled for Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal.
A wide-open Marcedes Lewis gave the Jaguars a 7-3 lead 45 seconds into the second quarter with a 4-yard touchdown catch from Bortles .
Leonard Fournette gave Jacksonville a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter with a 4-yard TD run, hushing the crowd at Gillette Stadium.
The Jaguars made some big mistakes just before halftime. Bortles completed a 12-yard pass to Lewis on third-and-7 from the Patriots 44, but Jacksonville was called for delay of game.
That wiped out a first down, and Bortles was sacked by Adam Butler on the next play to force a punt. Jacksonville was called for six penalties that cost the Jaguars 98 yards, while New England was penalized just once.
With just over two minutes left before halftime, New England's offense took over and the fans chanted ''Braa-dy! Braa-dy!''
And their quarterback delivered - with some help from two big penalties.
On first-and-10 from the Patriots 40, Brady threw a long pass for Gronkowski, who was injured when he got popped by Barry Church. Church was called for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball at Jacksonville's 45.
''It was a tough call,'' Church said, ''but you've got to go with what they call.''
A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference on the next play. The 32-yard penalty gave the Patriots the ball at the Jaguars 13. After a 12-yard catch by Cooks, White ran it in from the 1 to make it 14-10.
Josh Lambo gave Jacksonville a 17-10 lead 4:37 into the third quarter with a 54-yard field goal. He added a 43-yarder 8 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a 10-point game.
But Brady & Co. were just getting started.
After Jacksonville went three-and-out following Jack's fumble recovery of Lewis, Brady and the Patriots offense came out with a sense of urgency.
They marched 85 yards on eight plays to cut it to a three-point deficit on Amendola's 9-yard TD catch with 8:44 left. Amendola had a 21-yard catch on third-and-18 from the Patriots 25 early in the drive.
''Big play in the game,'' Brady said. ''Ended up being a huge drive for us.''
FEW FLAGS: The Patriots' one penalty against the Jaguars is the fewest called on one team in a playoff game since the 2011 AFC championship - when the Patriots were called for just one in a win over Baltimore.
BRADY'S BOUNCEBACK: Brady's passer rating during the first three quarters: 87.5. In the fourth quarter, it was 136.3.
SOLID JAGUARS: Bortles finished 23 of 36 for 293 yards and a touchdown in his first AFC title game. Fournette had 76 yards rushing on 24 carries.
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Foles, Eagles fly into Super Bowl, rout Vikings 38-7
By BARRY WILNER - AP Pro Football Writer
Sunday, January 21 at 11:54 PM (EST)
PHILADELPHIA (AP) With one quarter remaining, Eagles players on the field and sideline already were dancing.
A bit later, after their stunning and resounding 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings earned them the NFC championship, they listened as nearly 70,000 made the Linc shake with ''Fly Eagles Fly.''
Hey Philly, you're in the Super Bowl.
''It was electric. The fans are awesome,'' All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson said.
''We're going there to prove we belong,'' added Brandon Graham of the meeting with the AFC champion Patriots in two weeks.
And maybe it's time for everyone to put aside Carson Wentz's injury. Nick Foles might be good enough to win the Eagles their first NFL title since 1960.
Foles was on fire Sunday night against the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Next up after their most-lopsided playoff victory: the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, against the team that beat them then.
Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Game 13 and finished off a rise from last place last season to first in the NFC East. There were plenty of doubters entering the playoffs, but the former starter in Philadelphia (15-3) under another regime has been brilliant.
''I just think you've got to keep going at it,'' Foles said. ''And we all believe in each other. I'm blessed to have amazing teammates, amazing coaches. Everyone here that's a part of the Philadelphia Eagles organization is first class.''
Foles' best work might have come against Minnesota (14-4) and its vaunted defense that was torn apart in every manner. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise, escapability and moxie in going 26 for 33.
''I'm so happy for Nick and the offense,'' said coach Doug Pederson, ''and for Nick, everything he's been through and battled, he stayed the course and we all believed in him.''
Foles was helped greatly by the Eagles' domination on defense and a spectacular weaving 50-yard interception return TD by Patrick Robinson. Philadelphia ruined the Vikings' hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium.
Instead, the Eagles will seek their first Super Bowl crown in Minnesota on Feb. 4; their last championship came in 1960.
''I'm so proud of our players,'' team owner Jeffrey Lurie said. ''The resilience this group of men has is unequaled.''
OVER AT HALFTIME: Minnesota made it look easy at the outset, driving 75 yards on nine plays, each of which gained yardage. The payoff was a 25-yard throw from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph well behind linebacker Najee Goode as Philadelphia's defense looked confused on the play.
That didn't happen again for Philly.
Defensive end Chris Long had a huge hand in Robinson's 50-yard interception return. Long burst in from the left side and got his arm on Keenum to disrupt the throw for Adam Thielen. The ball went directly to Robinson, who sped down the left side, then made a sharp cut to the right and got a superb block from Ronald Darby to reach the end zone.
Inspired, Philly's D forced a three-and-out, the Foles led the Eagles on a 12-play, 75-yard masterpiece of a drive. LeGarrette Blount showed all his power and escapability on an 11-yard surge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.
Turnovers, something Minnesota rarely committed with an NFC-low 14 during the season, hurt again and not only ended a solid drive, but set up more Philly points. On third down from the Eagles 15, Keenum was blindsided by rookie Derek Barnett, and the ball bounced directly to Long.
It was only the second strip-sack the Vikings have been victimized by all season.
A blown coverage - another rarity for Minnesota - on third-and-10 allowed Alshon Jeffery to get wide open for a 53-yard TD, and Philadelphia tacked on Jake Elliott's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.
''Credit to Philadelphia, they got after us pretty good tonight and we didn't do enough good things,'' Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
''I'm still proud of my football team with the way they worked all year. The way they went about their business. The way they competed all year and tonight we didn't get it done.''
BACK TO THE BIG GAME: Long won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots, as did Blount. Now they return on the other side.
QUICK DRIVE: Philadelphia got the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half at its 20. Foles hit passes of 11 yards to Jay Ajayi, 36 to Zach Ertz and 13 to Ajayi before Elliott's field goal to end the half.
THIRD DOWNS: Minnesota was the league's best team defending third downs and was third in converting them. Yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14.
Jeffery caught TD passes of 53 and 5 yards and had five receptions for 85 yards. Ertz was free seemingly all night and finished with eight catches for 93 yards. Torrey Smith had a 41-yard TD catch against double coverage in the third period.
Keenum finished 28 of 48 for 271 yards, with two picks, a lost fumble and the TD throw to Rudolph. The Vikings' previously staunch defense yielded 456 yards.
Philadelphia can look forward to facing New England in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. The Patriots are a 5- to 6-point favorite.
Minnesota returns home to watch two other teams play at its stadium for the Lombardi Trophy.
''We would've loved to play in the Super Bowl if it was in China,'' Zimmer said.
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