As of early Sunday, most pundits believed the Patriots had the easiest road to a Super Bowl victory ever. But as Pats fans have found out more than a few times over the past 16 years, getting that Lombardi Trophy is never easy. Here are five things we learned Sunday in the Pats’ 24-20 AFC Championship game victory over the Jaguars.
The play that saved it all
The Patriots had had little momentum on offense all game and desperation was creeping into the Gillette Stadium stands on a third-and-18 with 10:49 to go in the fourth until Tom Brady found Danny Amendola for a 21-yard pick-up. The play was followed by a flea-flicker to Phillip Dorsett that resulted in a 31-yard pick-up and the Pats completed the drive with a touchdown when Brady found Amendola again.
Gronk in case of emergency
When the Jags went up 14-3 in the second quarter, the Patriots immediately started looking Rob Gronkowski’s way. Brady threw three consecutive passes to No. 87, only connecting on one for 21 yards. The Pats ultimately punted on the drive.
On the next drive, Brady threw a deep pass down the right side to Gronk – but he was unable to come up with it. On the play, Jacksonville safety Barry Church was flagged for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty and it set up the Pats in good position. James White would score a TD for the Pats on a one-yard run but the bigger story was that Gronk came up seeing stars on the flagged play, repeating, “Wow,” over and over.
He was taken into concussion protocol and never returned. The fact that the Pats scored 14 fourth quarter points without him was something of a miracle.
Signs of slippage
The Jaguars were playing a perfect game until late in the second quarter when they came out of a timeout and couldn’t get a play off before the play clock expired. It came on a play in which Blake Bortles completed a throw for what would have been a first down. On the next drive there was the unsportsmanlike penalty on Gronk and that flag led to the Pats scoring on the drive. In addition, Jacksonville’s first drive of the second half was a weak one as they went three-and-out from their own 10, highlighted on the New England side of things with a Lawrence Guy sack and with Trey Flowers pressuring.
Always be closing
Brady was as magnificent as ever in the fourth quarter, throwing a pair of TD passes to Amendola. Brady finished the game completing 26-of-38 passes for 290 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He had a sparkling 108.4 passer rating in the game against the best defense in the AFC.
Brady wasn’t the only one “closing” on Sunday, as Dion Lewis made up for his fumble by rushing for 18 yards on third-and-9 with 1:30 left in the fourth to ultimately close the game. Stephon Gilmore came up huge for the Pats on defense in that final quarter, swatting down a 4th-and-15 pass intended for Dede Westbrook.
Jacksonville’s perfect first half
The AFC Championship game started just after 3:05 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Even in this age of non-stop commercial breaks, the first half ended at 4:24 p.m. Eastern. Jacksonville kept the clock running and running and running on offense with quick screens, dump passes and 17 run plays in the first half. On defense the Jags were superb in the first two quarters forcing the Pats into three consecutive drives in which their time of possession was this: 2:10, punt; 1:02, punt; 1:40, punt.
Jags quarterback Blake Bortles looked like a young Dan Marino in the first frame, completing 13-of-15 for 155 yards, one touchdown and zero picks. He had a back shoulder throw to Keelan Cole on a key third down that was picture-perfect.