The New England Patriots are headed to their second straight Super Bowl after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Tom Brady, whom ESPN's Adam Schefter reported suffered a laceration on his throwing hand earlier this week, finished 26-of-38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
Blake Bortles threw for 293 yards and a touchdown on 23-of-36 passing in a losing effort.
Brady's four-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 left in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winning score.
While Amendola's reception was the biggest play of the game, Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore delivered the second-biggest. Gilmore earned every penny of his five-year, $65 million deal when he knocked down a Bortles pass on 4th-and-15 from New England's 43-yard line with 1:47 left in the game
NFL on CBS showed Gilmore in full extension to prevent Dede Westbrook from catching the ball:
An 18-yard run by Dion Lewis got New England a first down on its next drive, which allowed the Patriots to run out the rest of the clock and seal the victory.
During a press conference prior to Sunday's game, Brady deflected questions about his injured hand, leading many to wonder how seriously it was injured. According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, Brady needed more than 10 stitches to close the cut.
A black bandage was visible on Brady's right hand during the game, which the Boston Globe's Ben Volin showed on Twitter:
As if Brady didn't already have enough on his plate, Rob Gronkowski exited in the second quarter with a head injury and didn't return to the game. The Patriots confirmed in the fourth quarter the All-Pro tight end wouldn't return. Gronkowski was limited to one catch for 21 yards.
Especially given Brady's and Gronkowski's respective injuries, former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz was surprised New England didn't emphasize the running game more:
Lewis was New England's leading rusher with 34 yards on nine carries.
Still, none of that prevented the Patriots from clawing back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter.
Even with James White's touchdown run inside the final minute of the first half, Jacksonville still led 14-10 at halftime, and Bortles was 13-of-15 for 155 yards and a touchdown through the opening two quarters. The half couldn't have gone much better for the Jaguars.
The second of two field goals from Josh Lambo put Jacksonville ahead 20-10 at the 14:52 mark of the fourth quarter. The Jaguars appeared to be firmly in the driver's seat after Myles Jack forced Lewis to fumble at Jacksonville's 35-yard line, just as the Patriots offense appeared to be building momentum.
But the Jaguars offense wasn't able to capitalize on the turnover and instead went three-and-out. New England responded with an eight-play, 85-yard scoring drive that culminated in a nine-yard touchdown pass to Amendola.
The NFL shared a replay of Amendola's first touchdown grab:
The Jaguars' run to the conference title game masked the fact Bortles wasn't much better than his regular-season self in Jacksonville's first two playoff wins. Bortles completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns in those games.
Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith summed up what was the decisive factor in the game:
As well as Bortles played, he couldn't get the Jaguars offense firing when it mattered the most. Jacksonville's final four drives went for 62 combined yards, and the team picked up two first downs in the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars had multiple opportunities to put points on the board after the Patriots made it a 20-17 game, and Jacksonville was unable to get into an offensive groove.
Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar didn't see the result as an indictment of the Jaguars:
Although Jacksonville's future is bright, Bortles remains a major wild card. The team can't win a Super Bowl unless he shows the consistency that has largely eluded him throughout his NFL career.
He's set to make a little over $19 million in 2018 before hitting free agency. The Jaguars should be wary of rewarding Bortles too much for one deep playoff run—a mistake the Baltimore Ravens made after Joe Flacco led them to the Super Bowl XLVII title.
Should Bortles continue to defy his skeptics in 2018, he could not only earn himself a massive extension but also once again have the Jaguars contending for an AFC title.
On the other sideline, Sunday's win is more of the same for the Patriots. The franchise has now won eight conference championships in 17 seasons, and Brady once again illustrated why he'll be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
Regardless of whom the Patriots face in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis—be it the Philadelphia Eagles or Minnesota Vikings—New England will be favored to win its sixth Super Bowl.