FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady, his remarkable career at 17 years and counting and not showing the slightest sign of nearing its end, added to his unprecedented list of accomplishments with yet another trip to the Super Bowl.
The 39-year-old quarterback led the Patriots to the AFC title for the seventh time — and the third time in six seasons — with another signature performance in a 36-17 win over the Steelers on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
It will be Brady against the Falcons’ Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston. The Patriots will make their record ninth Super Bowl appearance, and Brady could become the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl five times. Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw also won four.
Brady completed 32 of 42 passes for a Patriots playoff- record 384 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His go-to receiver was Chris Hogan, who had a career day with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
Brady’s last AFC Championship Game at Gillette was two years ago. The Colts complained that the Patriots were using underinflated footballs, and the NFL began a months-long investigation. NFL-appointed attorney Ted Wells determined that two Patriots staffers had taken air out of the balls before the game and that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the plan.
Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Brady the first four games of 2015, but Brady won an initial appeal and played the entire season. The NFL prevailed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, however, and Brady eventually decided to serve the penalty by missing the first four games of this season.
Brady was asked in the postgame ceremony if there was any extra motivation to return to the Super Bowl.
“No, this is my motivation right here,” he said, pointing to his teammates. “All these fellas right in front of me, that’s why we’re here. All the fans got to see it today. The boys showed up to play and we got to do that again in two weeks.”
Brady produced an MVP-caliber season, throwing 28 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in 12 games. After beating the Texans last week with an uneven performance, he was nearly perfect Sunday night.
He has owned the Steelers since Mike Tomlin became coach in 2007, going 6-1 with 22 TD passes and no interceptions.
For the Steelers, it was a painful ending to a promising season. After they beat the Chiefs, 18-16, their week started and ended badly.
A video shot by All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown showed Tomlin’s post game speech, in which he used a disparaging word to describe the Patriots.
Things didn’t go so well for the Steelers early Sunday, either, as the team was awakened by a fire alarm at its hotel. According to MassLive.com, police arrested Dennis Harrison, 25, of East Boston and said he had pulled the alarm. He was charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and setting off a false fire alarm.
The Steelers’ offense appeared out of sync most of the game, and they lost All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell in the first half with a groin injury.
The Patriots took a 17-9 lead into halftime, relying on Brady’s arm, Hogan’s catches and a resourceful defense. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Bell wasn’t back in the second half.
The Pats took a 27-9 lead with 2:44 left in the third quarter on LeGarrette Blount’s 1-yard run. Fans celebrated to the Jon Bon Jovi song “Livin’ on a Prayer,” with Bon Jovi, a close friend of coach Bill Belichick, singing along from the owners’ box alongside Robert Kraft and his son, Jonathan.
Brady threw a 10-yard pass to Julian Edelman to make it 33-9. After the TD, the in-house video feed flashed to former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, a radio broadcaster, who held up a sign, “Where’s Roger?” It was a shot at Goodell, who opted to attend the Packers-Falcons game. Fans chanted “Ro-ger! Ro-ger!” and “Where is Ro-ger?’’
The Patriots impressed Belichick. “We took care of the ball, played good defense,” he said. “Held this team to nine points for 50 minutes, pretty good.”
Patriots receiver Chris Hogan, who played three seasons of college lacrosse at Penn State and one season of football at Monmouth (N.J.) University, had a day to remember in the AFC Championship Game:
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