FOXBOROUGH — The script was different but the ending was the same.
This movie keeps playing over and over. It the end, the Evil Empire wins.
It’s on to Minneapolis for the Patriots.
New England looked as good as gone in the AFC Championship Game early in the fourth quarter before Tom Brady caught fire — not hampered at all by his injured right thumb — and led the Pats from 10 points down to beat the not-ready-for-the-Super Bowl Jaguars 24-20.
Tom Brady was all smiles after the game.
(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)
Tom Coughlin almost did it to Bill Belichick again.
The Jags vice president of football operations was sitting no closer to the field than the press box at Gillette Stadium, but the Jaguars team he helped build in the mold of his Super Bowl championship teams with the Giants that twice beat the Patriots, almost — and should have — pulled off a monumental upset. Coughlin was expressing encouragement on nearly every play from way above the field, but he was powerless to guide the young Jags to the finish line.
It was yet another marquee comeback win for the Patriots, reminiscent of last year’s Super Bowl finish when the Pats trailed the Falcons 28-3 with 17 minutes to go.
Bill Belichick has the Patriots in the Super Bowl yet again.
The Patriots will now go for their sixth Super Bowl title in the Brady-Belichick era on Feb. 4.
Brady settled the case last year that he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history when he won his fifth Super Bowl, one more than Joe Montana. But the Pats offense shut down for a long time after Rob Gronkowski was lost for the game after taking a huge helmet-helmet hit from safety Barry Church late in the second quarter. He went right to locker room and was done for the game.
The Patriots were in their record seventh consecutive conference championship game, which is an amazing run of consistently in itself. Brady didn’t seem bothered by his damaged right hand, which was injured in practice Wednesday when he collided with running back Rex Burkhead’s helmet. It was reportedly a bloody mess and required 10 stiches to close the wound at the base of his right thumb.
Blake Bortles and the Jaguars blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Brady ran on the field with backup QB Brian Hoyer for warmups. He arrived at Gillette Stadium at 9:30 a.m., more than five hours before kickoff, but had his right hand tucked in his jacket as he walked to the Patriots locker room. When he came on the field, he had black tape that extended from the back of his thumb around to underneath it without actually wrapping around the finger. He looked fine throwing the ball in the warmups and the game.
Jacksonville controlled the game in the first half and held a 14-3 lead until New England’s final possession of the second quarter. On back-to-back plays. Church was called for unnecessary roughness on Gronk and then A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference on Brandin Cooks at the 15. Two plays later, James White was in the end zone to get the Pats to within 14-10.
A couple of field goals helped the Jaguars extended the lead to 20-10 with eight seconds left in the third quarter. Brady brought the Patriots within one score on a nine-yard TD pass to Danny Amendola with 8:44 left. Then after a 20-yard punt return by Amendola, he found him at the back of the end zone with a four-yard TD pass with 2:48 left.
Blake Bortles played a solid game but after the Pats took the lead, he was able to get the Jags to the New England 39. But he missed a wide open Leonard Fournette down the left sideline, took an eight-yard sack, had a four-yard completion, and then with the season on the line, he stepped up in the pocket from the Pat 43 and tried to hit Dede Wetbrook deep but Stephon Gilmore leaped and knocked the pass away. Then when Dion Lewis ran for a first down on third and 9 and less than one minute remaining it was over.
Coughlin nearly did it to Belichick again. Now it’s on to Minneapolis.