FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady is somebody you don’t bet against. Not if he’s down seven. Not if he’s down 10. Maybe not even 20.
The Jaguars couldn’t contain Brady and the Patriots for the entire 60 minutes in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. A nicked-up Brady completed his record eighth fourth-quarter playoff comeback in a 24-20 victory at Gillette Stadium.
“There’s no doubt you’ve got to play 60 minutes in this league, and if you do that, you’ll be OK,” Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “I think [the Jaguars] were really kinda feeling themselves a little bit. We just kept fighting and kept playing and we were able to come out with a win.”
The Patriots will make their record 10th Super Bowl appearance when they face the Eagles on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.
Brady said there was concern about whether he was going to play Sunday after he suffered a nasty cut on his right thumb that required stitches during practice Wednesday. He played with black tape near the base of his thumb and displayed few problems. He completed his first seven passes and connected on 26 of 38 for 290 yards, with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“I wasn’t sure on Wednesday,” Brady said of whether he was going to play. “I thought out of all the plays, my season can’t end on a handoff in practice.”
Brady got well enough, and when he ran out on the field for pregame warmups, Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey shouted at him and Brady yelled back.
The Jaguars’ second-ranked defense doesn’t shy away from telling people how good it is. For much of the game, Jacksonville stifled Brady by putting pressure on him and contained big-play threat Rob Gronkowski until the star tight end left with a concussion late in the first half.
The Jaguars pushed their lead to 20-10 on Josh Lambo’s 43-yard field goal with 14:52 left in the fourth quarter.
That’s when things fell apart for the Jaguars.
“We were able to get, I would not say momentum, but we were able to get the lead,” coach Doug Marrone said. “Then we did not make enough plays to keep the lead. We had an opportunity at the end of the game to win it, and we did not do that.”
Marrone’s defense failed to make key plays during the Patriots’ comeback.
Faced with a third-and-18 from his 25, Brady completed a 21-yard pass to Danny Amendola with 10:45 to play. On the next play, the Patriots converted a flea- flicker as Brady completed a 31-yarder to Phillip Dorsett with 10:19 left. With the Jaguars reeling, Brady got his team to the 9 and found Amendola for a 9-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-17 with 8:44 left.
After an exchange of punts, the Jaguars went three-and-out. On the punt the Patriots went for the block, allowing Amendola room to return it 20 yards to Jacksonville’s 30 with 4:58 to go.
“On that particular punt, I saw the rush,” Amendola said. “When you rush on a punt return, usually it holds the guys up even more. When they get out, they get scattered.”
Given the short field, Brady drove his team to the Jaguars’ 4. He found Amendola again, in the back of the end zone, with 2:48 left for a 24-20 lead.
Amendola had a big game, catching seven passes for 84 yards with the two scores, and he wasn’t alone, as Brandin Cooks added six catches for 100 yards.
All this with Gronkowski in the locker room watching.
“Josh [McDaniels] did such a great job of figuring out what we needed to do and how we needed to get it done, and he made it happen,” Brady said of his offensive coordinator. “So it’s hard when you lose such a critical part of your team and offense, and hopefully he’s OK.”
The Jaguars had one final chance, driving to the Patriots’ 43, but that’s as close as they would get, as Gilmore knocked away a fourth-down pass with 1:47 left. All that was left was for Brady to take knees and get ready for Minneapolis.
“They got a great defense,” Patriots running back Dion Lewis said. “So to come back, down by that, we knew that if we put ourselves in that position, it would be tough. But that is just the resilience of this team. We just keep going forward.”
The Patriots are the first team to make double-digit appearances in the Super Bowl. The franchises with the most Super Bowl appearances:
10 New England
6 San Francisco
Slot receiver Danny Amendola, who was Tom Brady’s go-to guy in the fourth quarter, was a triple threat Sunday. His all-purpose numbers:
QB rating 118.8