Washington (AFP) – Defending champion New England booked a third Super Bowl trip in four seasons Sunday, edging Jacksonville 24-20 to reach an NFL championship showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady’s two fourth-quarter touchdown passes rallied the Patriots into Super Bowl 52 against an Eagles squad that routed Minnesota 38-7, humbling the Vikings’ top-rated defensive unit.
The Patriots boosted their record of Super Bowl appearances to 10 and could match Pittsburgh’s record six Super Bowl triumphs on February 4 at Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“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.”
Nick Foles, who took over as Philadelphia’s quarterback last month after an injury to Carson Wentz, completed 26-of-33 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns as the underdog Eagles humiliated the visitors.
“This moment, it’s unbelievable. It’s humbling,” Foles said. “The team was amazing. I’m a little speechless. It’s amazing soaking this all in. We all believe in each other. Everyone was against us. We came in here and came out with an amazing victory.”
It will be a rematch of Super Bowl 39 from 2005, when Brady threw two touchdown passes and the Patriots won 24-21 for their third title in four seasons, equal to the same run they could complete in two weeks.
“Now we have to go to Minnesota and finish the job,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
The Eagles, whose two Super Bowl defeats also include 1981, last won an NFL title in 1960 before the Super Bowl era began.
Brady, who needed stitches for a right hand injury suffered Wednesday in practice, lost his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski, to a second-quarter concussion.
But the 40-year-old quarterback completed 26-of-38 passes for 290 yards, 138 of them in the fourth quarter.
“We said whatever it takes,” Brady said. “That was a great second half. Just so proud of our team. Amazing.”
– Unkindest cut of all –
Brady finally addressed the Wednesday cut to his throwing hand that become a major pre-game concern.
“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.”
New England pulled within 20-17 on Brady’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 8:44 remaining. Amendola returned a punt 20 yards to the Jaguars’ 30-yard line, then made a diving catch and three plays later leaped high and made an acrobatic tiptoe landing for a 4-yard touchdown reception to create the final margin.
“It means a lot. We worked so hard for this,” said Amendola, who caught seven passes for 84 yards.
New England’s Stephon Gilmore batted down a fourth-down pass to halt the last Jaguars’ drive.
“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.”
– Foles shines, Eagles soar –
Foles proved he can deliver in big games to doubters that wrote off the Eagles when Wentz went down.
“I’m so happy for Nick,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “For everything he has been through and battled he has stayed true and stayed the course. We all believed in him.”
Case Keenum’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph opened the scoring for Minnesota, but Patrick Robinson returned an intercepted Keenum pass 50 yards for a touchdown to equalize at 7-7.
Former Patriot rusher LeGarrette Blount ran 11 yards for an Eagles touchdown and Foles followed with touchdown passes of 53 and five yards to Alshon Jeffery and 41 yards to Torrey Smith.
Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who played on New England’s 2017 Super Bowl champions, said they expected to shut down Minnesota.
“We’re not surprised at all,” Long said. “We just keep grinding.”
The Vikings, whose last Super Bowl was in 1977, would have been the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Dome-based teams fell to 0-13 in outdoor conference championship contests.