Tom Brady, Patriots into another Superbowl
THE Miracle man did it again.
The AFC championship game wasn't the rout many predicted as Jacksonville produced a courageous effort in New England.
But the visitors couldn't close the deal as the Patriots escaped with a 24-20 win to progress to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the past 17 seasons.
Five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady was without injured No. 1 target Rob Gronkowski but mounted another comeback after trailing 20-10 early in the fourth.
"That was a great second half," Brady said. "It's pretty crazy."
Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles (23/36 for 293 yards, one touchdown) shaded Brady (26/38 for 290 yards, two touchdowns) in the first half as the visitors held the Pats run game to just 17 yards on eight carries.
But like he did in last year's Super Bowl when he led the Pats back from a 28-3 deficit against Atlanta, Brady was best when it mattered.
Brady started the game by leading his team on a 10-play, 62-yard opening drive but was forced to settle for a field goal after being sacked on third-and-goal.
After back-to-back punts, Bortles got the Jags offence into gear, going 76 yards on seven plays before hitting Marcedes Lewis on a four-yard touchdown pass.
After another Pats punt, the Jags went one yard better on their next drive, completing a 77-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette.
Again, Brady couldn't respond. Dante Fowler recorded his second sack of the game to force another punt with five minutes remaining in the first half.
Bortles continued his stellar start by taking Jacksonville into Pats territory again on the next drive before he was sacked, forcing a punt.
New England finally answered courtesy of a huge pass interference call against Jags cornerback AJ Bouye. Bouye pushed Pats receiver Brandin Cooks when he really didn't need to and gave up a 32-yard penalty. Brady went back to Cooks for a 12-yard gain on the next play to take New England to the one-yard line. Running back James White did the rest to close the gap to four points.
Jacksonville didn't run any plays as time expired in the first half and were left to rue the late penalties. "You can't do that against a team like this," Jags coach Doug Marrone said.
Bortles kept making plays at the start of the third to put the Jags in field goal range, allowing Josh Lambo to drill a 54-yarder.
Brady converted one big third down play on the Pats' next drive but Jacksonville's defence held firm again. A Jacksonville punt was followed by a New England three-and-out as the game became a grind.
But Jacksonville refound a rhythm on its next drive, moving into field goal range as time expired in the third quarter. They stalled at the New England 25-yard line but Lambo made no mistake with his second field goal of the game.
Gronkowski, who was concussed on a heavy hit in the first half, was officially ruled out of the game. And it only got worse for the Pats as a big gain by Dion Lewis on their next drive ended with him being stripped of the ball by Myles Jack.
Jacksonville didn't make the most of the turnover, going three-and-out.
Brady showed some magic on the Pats' next drive, hitting Danny Amendola for 21 yards on third-and-18. A trick play on his next throw resulted in a 31-yard catch to Phil Dorsett - and the Pats were suddenly at the Jags' 23-yard line.
Brady went to Amendola twice more, hitting him for 14 yards and then a nine-yard touchdown to close the deficit to three points.
Bortles made one nice completion after a stellar special teams play by the Pats left him backed up on his own nine-yard line. But the drive stalled soon after, handing Brady the ball back with 6:34 on the clock.
Cooks drew another pass interference penalty to move New England past halfway but Brady fell to 2/10 on third down and the Pats were forced to punt.
But the Jaguars offence had disappeared and another three-and-out finished with Amendola gaining 20 yards on a punt return to hand Brady the ball at midfield.
Brady took advantage, going 30 yards on five plays and hitting Amendola for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:48 on the clock.
Bortles had the chance to be a hero but a key sack by former Steeler James Harrison put the Jags in trouble and they failed to convert on fourth down.
The Pats needed one first down to run down the clock and Dion Lewis delivered to prompt an exuberant celebration from New England coach Bill Belichick on the sidelines.