The play that secured the New England Patriots’ passage into the Tremendous Bowl, that repudiated hints of their vulnerability and punctuated a season-long transformation, occurred within the second quarter Sunday.
A complete half — after which some — remained within the A.F.C. championship recreation, however the frothing followers at Gillette Stadium might sense the second, and so might the Patriots, who, victory after victory, ever since their final defeat 10 weeks in the past, have been requested to defend, effectively, their protection.
Commanded by Tom Brady, the Patriots’ offense remained as imperious as ever, riddling the Pittsburgh Steelers for 3 landing passes in a 36-17 victory. His precision escorted New England right into a report ninth Tremendous Bowl — the workforce’s seventh with him at quarterback and its third prior to now six seasons. Chris Hogan, a former lacrosse star nicknamed 7-Eleven (you understand, as a result of he’s at all times open), amassed 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns, reinforcing New England’s status for maximizing distressed property.
The pivotal play, although, arrived lengthy earlier than the sport had devolved right into a romp, and earlier than almost 70,000 followers chanted Brady’s identify and crooned alongside to Bon Jovi.
It got here on second down on the New England 2-yard line.
Not since dropping to Russell Wilson and Seattle on Nov. 13 had the Patriots confronted a quarterback of Ben Roethlisberger’s caliber, or an offense as harmful as multidimensional as Pittsburgh’s.
“We heard we weren’t examined all 12 months,” security Duron Harmon stated.
The blemish on a defensive résumé that included the N.F.L.’s fewest factors allowed was that New England had conquered quarterbacks of meager inventory — Bryce Petty, Brock Osweiler, Jared Goff. Right here late within the second quarter, although, was Roethlisberger, who assumed that he had drawn Pittsburgh tighter — New England led by 17-6 on the time — with a landing to Jesse James that may be overruled by video evaluate.
Nonetheless, first-and-goal on the New England 1.
“That yard is so small,” Harmon stated. “You’ll suppose the Pittsburgh Steelers would be capable to get that yard.”
Stuffed for a loss on first down, DeAngelo Williams — taking part in rather than the star operating again Le’Veon Bell, who sustained an early groin harm — took the handoff once more on second. Earlier than he might even take a step, a 320-pound rookie defensive lineman named Vincent Valentine yanked Williams to the bottom for a Three-yard loss.
The cease, which preceded a Roethlisberger incompletion, asserted the Patriots’ primacy. It pushed Pittsburgh right into a passing state of affairs. It compelled a subject aim — the Steelers’ remaining factors till scoring a landing with three minutes 36 seconds left. They trailed by 36-17.
“In some unspecified time in the future,” cornerback Logan Ryan mentioned, “we simply wish to attempt to earn the respect when it’s not given.”
It is just applicable, then, that New England’s subsequent, and remaining, problem includes striving to include the Atlanta Falcons, who’ve scored 80 factors the final two weeks, on Feb. 5 in Houston. The identical Falcons who, after thrashing each Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, have now ousted two Tremendous Bowl-winning quarterbacks this month.
Subsequent up for Atlanta is a 3rd embellished quarterback: Brady, who on Sunday set a franchise postseason file by throwing for 384 yards and accomplished throws to 9 receivers, none named Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski, New England’s superlative tight finish, has missed seven straight video games with a again harm that required surgical procedure, and he might be unavailable for the Tremendous Bowl. However the workforce has an uncanny knack for minimizing absences, whether or not it’s Gronkowski’s or these of the Professional Bowl linebackers Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, each dumped inside the final 10 months.
The Patriots are soccer’s metronome, all the time scoring, successful, celebrating. After the ultimate second ticked off, tight finish Martellus Bennett exchanged handshakes and hugs after which ran across the subject, a private victory lap. He danced with cheerleaders and made snow angels together with his daughter amid the purple and blue confetti.
Within the locker room, he vowed to tease his brother, Michael, a Seahawks defensive lineman, over FaceTime; extolled the sweetness and music of his hometown, Houston; and mentioned he meant to go dwelling and bake his favourite cake — yellow with chocolate icing — and write “You’re Superior” on it.
“I’ll most likely eat the entire thing and remorse it tomorrow, as a result of I’ve acquired to verify I make weight,” Bennett mentioned.
Throughout the best way stood Ryan, a connoisseur of throwback jerseys. His assortment consists of Allen Iverson and Ken Griffey Jr. fashions, however for Sunday he wore an old-school Nolan Ryan No. 34 Houston Astros prime — and never simply due to the shared surname.
“Undoubtedly not a coincidence,” Ryan stated. “I gave it some thought.”
Even all the way down to their wardrobes the Patriots are calculated. They knew that the departures of Jones and Collins wouldn’t weaken them. They knew that these gamers’ departures would enable new or youthful gamers to come back in and thrive, even when some early outcomes recommended in any other case.
Pittsburgh associated to the Patriots, confronting related skepticism about its protection — that it, too, remained untested.
Examined loads on Sunday, the Steelers pressured two punts — and no turnovers — on New England’s first 10 drives. It’s as inevitable as sundown, Brady pillaging the Mike Tomlin-coached Steelers. In seven begins in opposition to them, he has now thrown 22 touchdowns with out an interception, belittling their zone protection.
“Yeah, he ripped us aside,” Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt stated.
Brady doesn’t discriminate. He humiliates rookies. He humiliates veterans. On his first landing cross, bungled protection left Hogan open at the back of the tip zone. On his second, Brady fooled your complete protection with a flea-flicker, zipping a 34-yarder to Hogan.
That elevated New England’s benefit to 17-6, and oddly sufficient, its leads have been jeopardized extra with Bell on the sideline. Lacking most of Pittsburgh’s closing two collection earlier than halftime (and all within the second half), Bell watched as Williams accounted for 51 yards and a landing — however failed to slide into the tip zone when the Steelers most wanted it.
The Steelers trailed by 17-9 at halftime, and that was as shut as they bought to New England, which fattened its lead by scoring 16 factors on its three third-quarter drives. After the second landing, a 10-yard reception by Julian Edelman, the Patriots radio announcer Scott Zolak held out an indication from his sales space that learn, “The place’s Roger?”
The reference was to the commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has not visited Gillette since meting out a punishment for Brady, upheld after a protracted court docket battle, for the scandal referred to as Deflategate. “Oh yeah, the place is he?” Bennett stated. “He’s like Waldo proper now. He don’t wish to come right here.”
The Patriots seen that Goodell was spending Championship Sunday in Atlanta. Requested if a title can be any extra satisfying this season, offensive sort out Nate Solder smiled broadly earlier than saying he didn’t know. The proprietor Robert Okay. Kraft, nonetheless seething, alluded to his fury in the course of the Lamar Hunt Trophy presentation, when he stated that “all of you on this stadium perceive how massive this win was.”
In two weeks, New England’s tour of revenge reaches its final cease, NRG Stadium in Houston, the place Goodell can be in attendance, with no alternative however to look at Brady, a maestro as at all times, and a protection missed and discounted now not.