FOXBORO, Mass. — Some notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game:
— The Patriots are headed to their second consecutive Super Bowl and their eighth in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. They’ll take on the Philadelphia Eagles, who waxed the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 in the NFC title game, on Sunday, Feb. 4 in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX.
— Though it was overshadowed by Danny Amendola’s uber-clutch performance, wide receiver Brandin Cooks had one of the best games of his Patriots career against the Jaguars.
Cooks caught six passes on eight targets for a game-high 100 yards and also drew two defensive pass interference penalties on deep balls, one on second-team All-Pro cornerback A.J. Bouye and the other on first-team All-Pro Jalen Ramsey.
Bouye’s infraction resulted in a 32-yard gain and led to a Patriots touchdown just before halftime. Ramsey’s went for 36 yards and allowed the Pats to escape their own red zone.
“Brandin made a bunch of big plays (Sunday) and he was huge for us,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “We’ve talked a lot, and I have a lot of confidence and trust in him. He’s an incredible player.”
Cooks, who did have one ugly drop that could have resulted in a touchdown, did most of his damage on deep comeback routes, using sharp cuts to gain separation from the Jaguars’ talented cornerbacks and catching passes just inside the boundary. His longest reception of the day, though, came on a simple go route from the slot.
Exploiting a coverage mismatch, the speedy wideout blew past linebacker Telvin Smith and caught a perfect pass from Brady for 31 yards.
“Brandin’s been good for us all year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “(He’s) a really good football player, good route runner, tough, good hands, smart guy, does a lot of different things. We put him in a lot of different positions and he’s able to execute a lot of different things. Yeah, he had some big plays for us (Sunday), no question.”
With tight end Rob Gronkowski knocked out of the game with a concussion late in the second quarter and the Patriots’ run game failing to gain traction (19 carries, 46 yards), New England relied much more on its receivers than was expected. Amendola caught seven passes on nine targets for 84 yards and two touchdowns, and the seldom-targeted Phillip Dorsett chipped in with a 31-yard catch off a flea flicker.
“This is a great (receiver) group,” Dorsett said. “This is an amazing group in talent and character when it comes to just being now. We don’t worry about it. We just think of the next play. We left some plays out there (Sunday), but we did great as a group.”
— In a repeat of last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Gillette Stadium faithful belted out a spirited rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” during the fourth quarter — with Jon Bon Jovi himself leading the charge.
— Cornerback Malcolm Butler is in his fourth NFL season. Three of those featured Super Bowl appearances.
“I’m spoiled,” the Super Bowl XLIX hero said with a smile after Sunday’s win.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images