Bill Belichick

Patriots Are Super Bowl Bound After 24-20 Win Over Jaguars

No comeback could ever compare to 28-3, but Sunday's AFC Championship Game will have its own place in New England Patriots lore.

Trailing 20-10 with under nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady engineered yet another fourth quarter masterpiece to punch the Patriots' ticket to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII with a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.

Brady now has 11 postseason game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, giving him five more than anyone else in the modern era.

With Rob Gronkowski knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a head injury, Brady made do with what he had to extend his record of Super Bowl appearances to eight.

What he had was Danny Amendola, who continues to ascend the ranks of the best playoff performers in NFL history.

"We put a lot of hard work into each week of the season, and coming out here and getting a win each week," Amendola said to Jim Nantz at the presentation of the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the game.

"We love playing at home, we love being in Foxboro and we love you," he told the national audience on TV, as well as those who hung around Gillette Stadium for the ceremony.

Amendola caught each of Brady's fourth quarter touchdown passes, the latter coming with 2:48 to go in regulation. Amendola caught seven passes total for 84 yards as he emerged as Brady's go-to guy in the playoffs once again. His punt return to the Jacksonville 30 gave the Patriots superb field position to finish off their comeback.

"This was a great football game," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said at his press conference. "Really, as I said out there, really proud of our players, did a great job. We didn’t really do things as well as we’d like to have done them at times in the game, but they battled. They kept competing. In the end, we made enough phases in all three phases of the game."

Brandin Cooks, who had a bad drop in the third quarter, redeemed himself nicely with a catch to extend New England’s first fourth quarter scoring drive and finished with six catches for 100 yards to finish as the Patriots leading receiver. In just his second career playoff game, it was his first 100-yard receiving game.

Brady got off to a lightning hot start, assuaging fears that his throwing hand was more banged up than anyone could have realized. But after completing each of his first seven passes, he fell out of sync while Jacksonville jumped ahead 14-3.

Brady missed a few open receivers, but also wasn't helped by drops – Cooks' was hardly the only one of the game. A Dion Lewis fumble lost early in the fourth quarter looked it spelled doom for New England, only for once again the team to climb out of a five-and-a-half-foot hole that seemed destined to reach six feet under.

The much-maligned Blake Bortles, who played great, seemed poised to bring the Jaguars right back downfield to stun the Patriots near the end of the game, trailing by four. But Kyle Van Noy's sack of Bortles for a loss of 9 yards around midfield took all the wind out of Jacksonville's sails, giving them a nearly-impossible to convert third-and-19 inside of the two-minute warning.

Bortles checked down to James O'Shaugnessey for a short gain, giving the Jaguars a do-or-die fourth-and-15. Bortles took his shot deep in search of Dede Westbrook, only for Stephon Gilmore to come flying in with the most emphatic pass break up of his career to date to all but ensure a win for New England.

"It wasn't the biggest play I've made, but it was definitely one of the most important," Gilmore said. "I go out there and try to make plays for my teammates. I have great teammates and my coaches put me in a position to go out there and make plays."

Armed with all three timeouts, Jacksonville still had one last chance to stop the Patriots and get the ball back. After getting two quick run stuffs and stopping the clock on third-and-9, Dion Lewis broke free for an 18-yard gain to allow Brady to take three kneel downs.

"I wasn't worried about getting the [first] down, I was worried about protecting the ball," Lewis said. "Obviously, I had a fumble today, unacceptable; I felt I put my team in a terrible position. I felt extremely bad, so I was just happy that I was able to get a down to end the game."

It was pretty much the only contribution for New England's running game on the afternoon; in all, the Patriots carried the ball 19 times for just 46 yards.

Bortles did nothing to warrant his punchline reputation, outshining Brady for much of the first half. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft finished 23 for 36 passing with 293 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.

The final stat line for Bortles wasn't too far off from Brady's; New England's quarterback completed 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns.

Brady finished with a passer rating of 108.4, the eighth-best of his 36 career postseason starts. Bortles finished at 98.5.

Brady was asked in the postgame if he was able to appreciate this particular trip to the Super Bowl, his being 40 years old and all.

"I think for all of us, it does, because you cherish these moments and opportunities, and I know we've had quite a few of them, which we've been very blessed to do," Brady said. "It's just been an unbelievable run, and I think everyone should be really proud of what we accomplished."

The Jaguars were at their best offensively utilizing running backs on wheel routes, creating mismatch nightmares with New England's linebackers, which is something they got away from as the game went along.

The Patriots pulled within 14-10 at halftime, James White breaking through for New England's first touchdown of the game.

With a full 55 seconds left, Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone opted to kneel the ball in lieu of attempting to add to its lead.

It was a sign of things to come, as the Jaguars turned to an even more conservative approach in the second half, letting the Patriots claw their way back in the game.

New England will face the Eagles in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis on Sunday, Feb. 4.

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