Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass
FOXBOROUGH – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – The song, “One More Time,” by Daft Punk, blared over the stadium system. Martellus Bennett, borrowing a pair of pompoms from a cheerleader, led the women in dance. Rob Gronkowski, dressed in street clothes because of his injured back, celebrated with his teammates. The New England Patriots, who started the season under the cloud of the Deflategate ruling that left Tom Brady suspended for the first four games, hammered the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 Sunday in the AFC Championship Game and are headed to play the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl.
New England will appear in a record ninth Super Bowl, the seventh with Brady at quarterback and coach Bill Belichick running the show.
“For a number of reasons, all of you in this stadium understand how big this win was,” owner Bob Kraft said as he accepted the AFC championship trophy.
This Super Bowl trip, with the Pats seeking the fifth title under Brady/Belichick, is special after the Deflategate battle with commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell, hardly a favorite at Gillette Stadium following his war with Brady, was not at the game, but Patriots fans chanted “Where is Roger” in the fourth quarter. That came after the crowd was urged on by club radio analyst Scott Zolak, who hung a “Where Is Roger” sign out of the press box late in the third quarter.
“It was a good day. We’re going to the Super Bowl, man, (expletive), you gotta be happy now,” Brady said after shredding the Pittsburgh defense for a team-playoff-record 384 yards and three touchdowns in what turned into an easy win.
Asked by CBS’ Jim Nantz on the field if there was extra motivation for him to get this far, Brady said, “No, this is my motivation right here, all these fellas (teammates) in front of me.”
Brady said he didn’t hear the Goodell chants.
Belichick didn’t comment of the Falcons, insisting, “I didn’t even know they won.”
With help from Chris Hogan, who enjoyed a career receiving game, Brady again led the way. The team improved to 13-1 since the 39-year-old quarterback’s return.
Hogan, who signed as a free agent last offseason, caught nine passes for a club-playoff-record 180 yards and the first two-touchdown game of his career. The second TD was a 34-yarder on a flea-flicker that saw Brady hand the ball to Dion Lewis, who then flipped it back to Brady for the pass.
“I’m glad we got him,” Brady said of Hogan. “He’s just done an incredible job for us.”
In a game played in a fine mist, Brady, who also hit Julian Edelman with a TD pass, was 32 of 42 with his 59th and 60th postseason scoring passes. It was his 11th career postseason game with 300 yards, extending his own NFL record, and he recorded his ninth three-touchdown playoff game, tying Joe Montana for the most all time.
Edelman had eight grabs for 118 yards, the fourth 100-yard postseason game of his career, tying Deion Branch for the club mark. Edelman also passed Branch and became the club leader for postseason receiving yards.
The Patriots ran for just 57 yards, but 18 of them came with LeGarrette Blount carrying what seemed like every player on the field to the Pittsburgh 1. He scored from there on the next play.
New England fashioned a goal-line stand late in the first half, and Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell, who kicked six field goals to allow his team to advance last week, missed an extra point. The Patriots also stopped Pittsburgh at the New England 2 in the fourth quarter, the Steelers scoring but having it called back because Cobi Hamilton went out of bounds and came back in for the catch.
Le’Veon Bell, a focal point of the Pittsburgh offense, sustained a right groin injury in the first half, tried to return and couldn’t. He wound up with 20 yards on six carries.
“It was on the second play of the game,” Bell said. “Obviously, I got banged up, but I still tried to give it a go. I still tried to play.
“It’s real disappointing. We work so hard to get here. I felt like I had done a lot to help us get here. To not play and not go to battle with my teammates, it hurts.”
Asked if he was frustrated, Bell said, “Of course, given how far we came.”
D’Angelo Williams came on for Bell and ran for 34 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts. Williams also caught seven passes for 51 yards.
Antonio Brown, whose Facebook video caused a distraction for the Steelers early in the week, wasn’t a factor, catching seven passes for 77 yards.
Roethlisberger, registering his fourth 300-yard postseason game, was 31 of 47 (and had some dropped) for 314 yards with one interception. He moved past Dan Marino into sixth place on the all-time postseason yardage list. Roethlisberger hit Hamilton with a 30-yard TD pass and Williams with a two-point conversion pass with 3:36 left.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals and missed an extra point in the victory, the Patriots’ ninth in a row.
The Steelers’ nine-game winning streak ended.
“I tip my cap to those guys, they are the champions of the AFC and rightfully so, you know,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “Not a lot went our way tonight, not only in terms of the final score, but just how the game was played. They are to be complimented for that.
“We didn’t get the things done that we wanted to get done really, on offense, defense and special teams in a consistent manner for it to be competitive and close.”
NOTES: WRs Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman became the first pair of Patriots to record more than 100 receiving yards in a playoff game since 1963. … Patriots WR Malcolm Mitchell returned after missing two games with a knee injury, with WR Michael Floyd inactive to make room. … Pittsburgh TE Ladarius Green missed his fifth straight game due to concussion symptoms. … Former Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward and New England LB Tedy Bruschi were the honorary captains — the Patriots improving to 9-0 in games where Bruschi was honored. … Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, on the team’s radio pregame show, was asked about the firing of Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson and answered with a Deflategate connection, saying, “That game might have been Ryan’s pinnacle, I don’t know.”