New England Patriots
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Brady gives thumbs-up after Patriots win
A practice-field handoff mishap last Wednesday put Tom Brady's injured right hand in the spotlight heading into Sunday afternoon's AFC Championship Game battle between the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
In the end, Brady's hand and right arm were yet again the story as the 40-year-old quarterback led New England to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to come back from a 20-10 deficit and pull off the 24-20 victory, dispatching the upstart Jacksonville squad to advance to Super Bowl LII.
New England will get a chance to defend its title and earn a third Lombardi Trophy in four years for the second time in recent franchise history. With a hint of history repeating itself, the Patriots will face the Eagles in two weeks in Minnesota, the same team they beat following the 2004 season for its second straight title and third in four years at that time.
After throwing for nearly 300 yards and pulling off the comeback against the Jaguars' speedy, No. 1-ranked pass defense, Brady downplayed his injury but admitted it was a unique week thanks to the severe cut just below the thumb on his right hand.
"Never had anything like it. Well, I've had a couple crazy injuries, but this was pretty crazy. They come up and you just deal with them," Brady said. "I think it sounds kind of arrogant to say, 'Oh yeah, it bothered me,' when we had a pretty good game. So, I wouldn't say that. Doesn't that sound arrogant if I said that? It's like when Tiger Woods said, 'That was my C game,' and he won the tournament."
Belichick also jokingly dismissed the hand issue.
"Look, Tom did a great job and he's a tough guy. We all know that, alright? But, we're not talking about open-heart surgery here," Belichick said in his trademark dry tone.
No one, though, could dismiss the well-rounded effort that led to the hard-fought victory. Jacksonville's speed on defense clearly gave New England issues early on, while quarterback Blake Bortles made more than enough throws to put together long drives and build leads of 14-3 and 20-10.
But Danny Amendola came up huge again with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown receptions as well as a key 21-yard gain on third-and-18 just before his first score. Defensively, New England stopped running back Leonard Fournette down the stretch and got timely pass defense, none more so than cornerback Stephon Gilmore's pass breakup on Bortles' last-ditch final fourth-down throw of the game.
"This was a great football game," Belichick exclaimed shortly after accepting the Lamar Hunt Trophy signifying the eighth time New England will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl since he arrived in 2000.
"Really, as I said out there, really proud of our players, did a great job. We didn't really do things as well as we'd like to have done them at times in the game, but they battled. They kept competing. In the end, we made enough plays in all three phases of the game. A lot of guys stepped up and that's a good football team. Coach (Doug) Marrone, his staff, Jacksonville - that's a really good team. But I couldn't be prouder of the way our guys played, competed, fought and in the end executed, made the plays that we had to make to win. We're happy to be moving on."