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.
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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