By The Sports Xchange | Box Score
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady, who served a four-game Deflategate suspension at the start of the season, shredded the Pittsburgh defense, powering the New England Patriots to a 36-17 rout of the Steelers on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
With help from Chris Hogan, who enjoyed a career receiving game, Brady guided the Patriots to another Super Bowl berth.
Both teams were vying to become the first ever to go to nine Super Bowls, but it will be the Patriots who will face the Atlanta Falcons in Houston on Feb. 4 in the seventh Super Bowl trip of the Brady/Bill Belichick era.
New England will seek its fifth title, all under Brady and his coach.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, hardly a favorite at Gillette Stadium after his battle 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.
Hogan, who signed with the Patriots 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 the quarterback for the pass.
In a game played in a fine mist, Brady, who also hit Julian Edelman with a TD pass, was 32 of 42 for a franchise-playoff-record 384 yards. It was his 11th career postseason game with 300 yards, extending his own 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. Early in the game, Edelman 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, often the 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. D’Angelo Williams came on 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 win, the Patriots’ ninth in a row and 13th in 14 games since Brady’s return.
Hogan and Edelman became the first pair of Patriots receivers to record more than 100 yards in a playoff game since 1963.
The Steelers thought they had a second touchdown with 1:53 left in the first half but a replay review showed that tight end Jesse James was down shy of the goal line. Williams lost 4 yards on two rushes, and Roethlisberger threw wide on third down and Pittsburgh, which already lost a point on Boswell’s missed extra point, settled for three.
Brady’s 59th and 60th career postseason touchdown passes — both to Hogan — staked New England to its 17-6 lead.
Brady hit Edelman with a catch and run worth 47 yards on the second play from scrimmage and probably would have taken his team in had Malcolm Mitchell not dropped a third-and-1 pass on a play that started at the Pittsburgh 13.
Bell ran for 18 yards on five carries in the first quarter, exited briefly, came back for one more carry and left again.
NOTES: 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, limited in practice Friday, was still out due to a concussion, missing his fifth straight game. … Patriots QB Tom Brady has 30 interceptions in 33 career playoff games. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has 23 in 20 games. … 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. … The Patriots hold a 16-14 all-time lead over the Steelers, counting playoffs, by a combined score of 682-651. … Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, on the team’s radio pregame show, was asked about the firing of Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson and apparently used a Deflategate connection, saying, “That game might have been Ryan’s pinnacle, I don’t know.”