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Patriots, as usual, find a way to win the big one

Quarterback+Tom+Brady+once+again+has+the+Patriots+a+game+away+from+an+NFL+championship.
Quarterback Tom Brady once again has the Patriots a game away from an NFL championship.

Quarterback Tom Brady once again has the Patriots a game away from an NFL championship.

Google image/Creative Commons license

Google image/Creative Commons license

Quarterback Tom Brady once again has the Patriots a game away from an NFL championship.

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And so it goes.

For the 10th time in franchise history (a record), the eighth time in storied quarterback Tom Brady’s career (an individual record), and third time in the past four years, the New England Patriots are advancing to the Super Bowl.

In other news, the sun rose in the east this morning.

But … it wasn’t easy, despite the history and easy clichés. The Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20 on Sunday in thrilling, come-from-behind fashion that was far from guaranteed.

“It’s pretty crazy. It’s pretty amazing,” Brady said on the field afterward in front of television cameras. “To be on a team that wins these kids of games is a great accomplishment.”

The Patriots found themselves down 14-3 early and trailed 20-10 in the fourth quarter. Cue the customary Brady heroics.

Brady drove New England down the field on an eight-play, 85-yard drive, culminating with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola, who proved the key figure down the stretch.

That made it 20-17.

After three straight punts by both teams, luck broke the Patriots’ way. Amendola returned a short punt 20 yards to set up the Patriots at Jacksonville’s 30-yard line. Brady worked a final bit of magic to add to his legend.

After a series of short passes and quick runs bled more than two minutes from the clock, Brady connected again with Amendola, who acrobatically kept his feet in bounds at the back of the end zone to account for the final score.

It sounds so much like the countless other comebacks Brady has engineered in the past, but this – upon closer inspection – was different.

Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons license
When the Patriots lost tight end Rob Gronkowski on Sunday, what seemed a disaster may actually have been a blessing.

How?

Many have argued that what happened was the Jaguars’ lack of experience, especially in high-pressure games. But – hear this out – it all might have boiled down to something so crazy that it must be true.

The Jaguars spent much of the week preparing for the herculean task of defending tight end Rob Gronkowski. Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone acknowledged the challenge, telling reporters that his team needed to “hope they don’t throw him the ball.”

The Jaguars – and who knows how much of this came from current front office man Tom Coughlin, the guy who, as coach of the New York Giants, beat New England in two Super Bowls with impeccable game plans – showed great poise early, holding Gronkowski to zero catches.

The Patriots’ best receiver was so blanketed that Brady couldn’t even target him.

But then Gronkowski left the game with a concussion, the victim of a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by Barry Church.

Suddenly, Jacksonville’s man-to-man coverage on Gronkowski with several different players and consistent assistance from a safety over the top, had to shift.

When New England came out of the halftime break, it took a little time for the team to adjust and it seemed the Jaguars had all the answers. A few three-and-outs and a Jacksonville scoring drive made things pretty grim for the Patriots.

But such situations seem to bring the best out of Belichick and Brady. The Patriots clearly had to utilize their air attack and do it without Gronkowski – but what might have normally seemed daunting may have been a blessing in disguise because Jacksonville had prepared for big No. 87.

In the waning moments, it was clear that the Jaguars could not keep up with the on-the-fly adjustments made so famous by Belichick, the winningest coach in NFL postseason history.

“We said whatever it takes,” Brady told The Boston Globe. “That was a great second half. Just so proud of our team.”

Another comeback, another Super Bowl berth against the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 4, and another slice of history with more potentially on the horizon. It leaves fans outside of New England shaking their heads and collectively asking a single question.

How do the Patriots keep doing this?

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Patriots, as usual, find a way to win the big one