Washington (AFP) – Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola in the fourth quarter Sunday and the defending NFL champion New England Patriots rallied to beat Jacksonville 24-20 and advance to Super Bowl 52.
New England advanced to the February 4 championship spectacle at Minneapolis, Minnesota, against the winner of a later game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Brady said. “It’s pretty amazing to be on a team that wins these kind of games. It’s so great. Defense played great when it needed to. It’s so amazing.”
Five-time Super Bowl champion Brady, who needed stitches for a right hand injury suffered in practice this past week, lost his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski, to a concussion late in the first half.
But the 40-year-old quarterback showed why he has become an NFL legend, chasing down the upstart Jaguars in the final minutes.
“We said whatever it takes,” Brady said. “That was a great second half. Just so proud of our team. Amazing.”
Down 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, New England surged when Amendola returned a punt 20 yards to the Jaguars’ 30-yard line with 4:58 remaining.
Brady zipped a pass to a diving Amendola that had fans chanting “Bra-dy, Bra-dy” and then ran up the middle for a first down at the Jacksonville 5-yard line.
Two plays later, Brady connected at the back of the end zone with a high-leaping Amendola, whose acrobatic tiptoe landing while falling ensured a 4-yard touchdown reception and a 24-20 Patriots lead with 2:48 to play.
New England’s Stephon Gilmore batted down a fourth-down pass to halt a late Jaguars’ drive and Dion Lewis ran for a clinching first down that enabled the Patriots to run out the clock.
“Now we have to go to Minnesota and finish the job,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose club could face a first-ever Super Bowl team playing at its home stadium in the Vikings.
– Unkindest cut of all –
Brady, who completed 26-of-38 passes for 290 yards, finally addressed the cut to his throwing hand on Wednesday that become a major concern to Patriots supporters for days.
“It was just a pretty good cut. I dealt with it the best I could,” Brady said.
“I’ve had a lot worse. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were a little scary. I gained some confidence on Saturday and we did just enough to win.”
Amendola caught seven passes for 84 yards and the crucial touchdowns.
“It means a lot,” Amendola said. “We worked so hard for this.”
Early in the third quarter, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles completed 12 passes in a row to match a career high, but Trey Flowers batted down a third-down toss to end the run and force Jacksonville to settle for a 54-yard field goal by Josh Lambo, boosting the visitors’ lead to 17-10.
Lambo added another from 43 yards eight seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Jaguars a 10-point edge.
But Brady guided New England on an 85-yard drive when he got the ball back and threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Amendola with 8:44 remaining, the Patriots pulling within 20-17 as the tension built.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that fight and never give up, that know how to play situational football,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I’m really proud of these guys.”
– Jaguars grabbed early lead –
Brady also masterminded an 85-yard touchdown drive in six plays over only 67 seconds late in the second quarter, a 1-yard scoring run by James White capping the trek as the Patriots pulled within 14-10 at half-time.
The Jaguars handed New England 47 of their 85 yards with penalties, among them the helmet-to-helmet collision that sent Gronkowski out of the game, but still became the first road team since 2009 to lead the American Conference final.
Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal gave the Patriots a 3-0 edge after 9:21 of the opening quarter.
But the Jaguars jumped ahead 14-3 as Bortles flipped a 4-yard touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis and Leonard Fournette ran four yards up the middle for another touchdown.