For the eighth time in his astonishing career, Tom Brady is heading to the Super Bowl.
This time, in their seventh straight AFC Title, it seemed as if another trip to the big game for Brady and the Patriots wouldn't happen, as they trailed Jacksonville 20-10 in the fourth.
Two touchdowns in less than 10 minutes against the best defense in the conference isn't easy, even for a man that overcame a 25-point Super Bowl deficit just less than a year ago. But Brady was able to do just that with a lot of help from his defense and wide receiver Danny Amendola.
Amendola was on the receiving end of both New England touchdowns in the fourth and even set up the second with a back-breaking punt return after a clutch three-and-out by the Patriots. Amendola caught 7 passes from Brady, which led the team. Receiver Brandon Cooks led the Patriots in yards (100).
While the game was still far from secure, hopes appeared highest for the Jaguars at the start of the fourth quarter. Trailing 20-10 and desperate for some offensive production, the Patriots opted to run a trick play that included Amendola throwing the ball downfield to Dion Lewis. The play worked. Lewis was unaccounted for and gained significant yardage until linebacker Myles Jack was able to strip the ball away. It appeared Lewis had lost the ball, pinned it against his thigh as he fell to the ground, and then lost it again. There was a lot of debate as to whether it should've been a turnover, but the call on the field stood.
You can't ask to be in a better spot than up 10 points in the final quarter against New England. When you consider the dominance of Jacksonville's defense, it mine as well have been a three-possession lead. The late and sole New England turnover of the game should've did them in, but it didn't.
Jacksonville will complain about the officiating on Sunday, but I thought it was pretty balanced. True, only one penalty was called on the Patriots. However, the officials seemed to be letting them play for the most part, but couldn't ignore a few blatant pass interference penalties that were called on the Jaguars. Looking back, there was maybe one that might not have always been called. But other than that, most of them weren't even difficult for the officials.
On top of that, it's hard to feel bad for the Jaguars. You had a legitimate chance to walk away with one of the biggest upsets in playoff history, but they couldn't finish the job. This is a team with a lot of young talent that will be back, but they missed a giant opportunity for their franchise with this loss.
Also, blaming the referees is never a good look unless it's so ridiculous that you have no choice. You could certainly disagree with a call or two, but to act like it determined the overall outcome of this game is pretty pathetic moments after you blew a two-possession, fourth quarter lead in the postseason. History remembers the victors, not the talkers.
Quite surprisingly, the NFC Title wasn't nearly as dramatic. The Minnesota Vikings appeared to have picked up right where they left off from their miracle victory in the Divisional round with a 9-play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the game.
This was about the only highlight of the night for the Vikings. They would keep their 7-0 lead until Philadelphia's Patrick Robinson intercepted quarterback Case Keenum's pass and brought it back 50 yards to tie the score.
The Vikings would punt on their next possession and Nick Foles of the Eagles led his team 75 yards on 12 plays to take the lead for good. Foles would go on to finish the game 26/33 with 352 yards and 3 touchdowns. He joins Joe Montana as the only men to complete 75 percent or more of their passes in back-to-back postseasons performances. He is also the only quarterback to post a rating over 100 in his first three playoff starts.
I thought the Eagles had a good chance to win this game, but I never imagined just how dominant they would be in the 38-7 victory. This has become a theme for the Eagles, who were written off when MVP candidate and starting quarterback Carson Wentz was lost for the year near the end of the regular season. When you consider just how good the NFC was this year, it's incredible what the Eagles accomplished in the playoffs.
Philadelphia will play the role of underdog one more time on Feb. 4 when they battle the Patriots for Super Bowl 52. New England will compete for their sixth Championship, all under Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. Meanwhile, the Eagles will look for their first ever Lombardi Trophy.
This will be a rematch of Super Bowl 39, when Brady and the Patriots knocked off Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and the then Andy Reid-led Eagles 24-21 in Jacksonville. Just like they did in 2005, New England will try and win their third out of four Championships once again.