Los Angeles (AFP) – Tom Brady led the New England Patriots into the seventh Super Bowl of his career with a clinical 36-17 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers after the Atlanta Falcons routed the Green Bay Packers to reach the NFL showpiece.
Brady, 39, will now be chasing a record-equalling fifth Super Bowl crown in Houston on February 5 after throwing three touchdowns for 384 yards in a convincing defeat of the Steelers on Sunday, at Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium.
Brady’s latest Super Bowl appearances comes a fully 15 years after he led the Patriots to victory over the St. Louis Rams in the 2002 championship game.
“It’s incredible. The team showed a lot of mental toughness over the course of the year,” added Brady, who was suspended for the first four games of the season over for his role in the long-running ‘Deflategate’ saga.
“I’m just happy for the team,” Brady added. “I know we’re playing a great team in a couple of weeks, but it’d be great to finish it off.”
Brady was at his deadly best on Sunday as the Bill Belichick-coached Pats outsmarted the Steelers with a series of clever plays which often left Pittsburgh’s defense chasing shadows.
After a field goal from Stephen Gostkowski opened the scoring for New England, Brady picked out wide open receiver Chris Hogan for the first touchdown with a 16-yard pass.
The Steelers responded with a five-yard touchdown run from DeAngelo Williams which reduced the deficit but Brady found Hogan once again with a clever play-fake that left the Patriots defender in acres of space to make it 17-6.
Chris Boswell and Gostkowski traded field goals to keep the score respectable but New England took full control with two quick touchdowns in the third quarter from running back LeGarrette Blount and receiver Julian Edelman which propelled the hosts into a 33-9 lead.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger endured a frustrating evening, unable to get any change out of a dominant Patriots defense until finding Cobi Hamilton with a 30-yard pass for a consolation score late in the fourth quarter.
– Ryan rampant as Falcons soar –
Earlier Sunday, Matt Ryan led a dominant offensive display as Atlanta crushed Green Bay 44-21 in their last ever game at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons surged into a 24-0 half-time lead after overwhelming the Packers defense with their varied running and passing game as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was never able to get going.
“We’ve got some more business at Houston in two weeks,” Ryan said after the Falcons were presented the NFC Championship trophy.
“We showed up. We did exactly what we’ve been doing all year. It feels really good,” added Ryan, who completed 27 out of 38 pass attempts for 392 yards and four touchdowns.
Green Bay star Rodgers said Atlanta had just been too good. “We played a hot team. You’ve got to give them credit,” Rodgers said.
“Matt is playing incredible right now, and that’s a very good offense.”
Rodgers was left frustrated as the Packers squandered vital early scoring opportunities through a missed Mason Crosby field goal and a fumble from Aaron Ripkowski near the Atlanta line with a touchdown begging.
“I feel like we hurt ourselves in the first half more than they really stopped us,” Rodgers said.
The Falcons meanwhile looked threatening whenever they ventured into Green Bay territory.
Mohamed Sanu scored the opening touchdown from a flipped shovel pass from Ryan before the Atlanta quarterback grabbed his team’s second six-pointer with a 14-yard run into the end zone.
Ryan punished a Rodgers interception with a pass to find Julio Jones from five yards, leaving the Falcons 24-0 ahead at the break.
Jones then galloped away for a 73-yard touchdown in the opening minutes of the third quarter to put Atlanta 31-0 ahead.
Further Atlanta touchdowns came from Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and although Green Bay attempted to give the scoreline some respectability with touchdowns from Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Jared Cook, the result was never in doubt.
Ryan said the Falcons had been determined not to let up on Green Bay despite building their massive first half lead.
“We knew going in against Green Bay and going against Aaron (Rodgers) it’s never over,” Ryan said. “He’s such a great player. We just kept at them the entire four quarters. I’m proud of the way we competed.”