BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots are on to Super Bowl LI.
The Patriots are heading to the Super Bowl for the ninth time in franchise history after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 in Sunday’s AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium. New England becomes the first franchise in NFL history to make it to nine championship games in the Super Bowl era.
The Patriots will take on the Atlanta Falcons on February 4 in Houston, after the Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship on Sunday afternoon.
It will be the record seventh Super Bowl for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw three touchdown passes against the Steelers, and the 10th Super Bowl overall for Bill Belichick (seven as a head coach, three as an assistant). With Sunday’s AFC Championship victory, Belichick moved out of a tie with Don Shula for most conference titles by a head coach in the Super Bowl era.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. Every week has always been one day at a time, one game at a time,” Brady said after the win. “It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable.
“I mean, we’re going to the Super Bowl, man. [Shoot], you gotta be happy now,” added Brady.
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Belichick didn’t care to discuss history after the victory.
“The numbers are nice, but it’s really about this team this year and this group of guys. I’m really happy for our coaching staff, our players, all the guys on the practice squad,” he said. “It was a good team victory.”
In two weeks, Brady and Belichick will go for their fifth Super Bowl championship in their 17 seasons together. While the quarterback and coach have made it a habit to be in the Super Bowl, some players will be enjoying it for the first time. Tight end Martellus Bennett never thought he’d get a chance to play in the big game, but now it’s a dream come true.
“I was talking to my wife this morning. I’m like, ‘I don’t really know how to feel about going into this game.’ I always dreamed about going to the Super Bowl but it never really felt like an attainable goal in the past because we lost so many games and we were never really in position,” said Bennett, who celebrated by dancing with New England’s cheerleaders after Sunday’s victory. “You’re just hopeful to go to the playoffs. So this is very special—it’s a dream come true.”
“I think it means a little something different to everybody,” said defensive end Chris Long, who is also heading to his first Super Bowl. “But we are all in it together and we’ve all earned this right to play one more game. We come from different backgrounds and we come from different teams a lot of times so there are different circumstances getting here. It’s a melting pot in that way and there are just unselfish guys in this locker room.”
“It’s an honor to get to go and play in this game,” said receiver Julian Edelman, who caught the game-winning touchdown in New England’s Super Bowl XLIX victory in 2014. “This is what you fight for. This is what you train for. This is what you get hurt for. This is what you get yelled at for, and prepare for, and go through the ebbs and flows of a season. It’s to get an opportunity to play in this game. It’s definitely something not to take lightly.”
The Patriots open as early three-point favorites over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, a game between Atlanta’s top-ranked scoring offense and New England’s top-ranked scoring defense.
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