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Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable on how the Patriots dismantled the Steelers to advance to Super Bowl LI

01.22.17 at 11:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots advance to their record ninth Super Bowl by throttling the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship at Gillette Stadium. How did they do it? Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable have the details inside Gillette Stadium.

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Photos: Patriots beat Steelers, advance to Super Bowl LI

01.22.17 at 10:53 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Chris Hogan led the Patriots to a 36-17 victory over the Steelers in the AFC championship game in Foxboro Sunday night. The Pats will now face the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI in Houston. Check out some photos from Sunday night’s game here.

For a complete recap, click here.

Chris Hogan set a Patriots playoff record with 180 yards receiving. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Chris Hogan set a Patriots playoff record with 180 yards receiving. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Poll: Who will win Super Bowl LI, Patriots or Falcons?

01.22.17 at 10:12 pm ET
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Now we know the Patriots are going to Super Bowl LI in Houston thanks ti their convincing win over the Steelers in the AFC title game, it’s time to find out how you think they will do there …

How will Patriots fare against Atlanta?

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Snap Judgments: Tom Brady, Chris Hogan rock Steelers, Patriots advance to record 9th Super Bowl

01.22.17 at 9:44 pm ET
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Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) catches a touchdown pass during the second quarter against Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell (23) in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Hogan (15) catches a touchdown pass during the second quarter against Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell (23) in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Another AFC championship win, another re-writing of the NFL record book for the Patriots.

Chris Hogan caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns while Tom Brady managed another perfect game against the Steelers, as the Patriots routed Pittsburgh, 36-17, Sunday night at Gillette Stadium to advance to play the Atlanta Falcons on Feb. 5 in Super Bowl LI in Houston.

In one of his best playoff performances, Brady finished 32-of-42 for a franchise-record 384 yards and three touchdowns and a 127.5 quarterback rating. Since 2007, Tom Brady has 22 touchdowns passes and no interceptions in seven games against Pittsburgh.

The Patriots become the first team in NFL history to appear in nine Super Bowls, eclipsing the eight by the Steelers, Broncos and Cowboys.

Hogan’s 180 yards is a new franchise playoff record while Julian Edelman passed Deion Branch for the most all-time receiving yards in franchise playoff history. Edelman caught eight passes for 118 yards, giving him his fourth career 100-yard receiving game, matching Branch for most in franchise history.

By the time the rout was on late in the third quarter, the sellout Gillette Stadium crowd broke into chants of “Roger, Roger, Roger” after former quarterback and team broadcaster Scott Zolak held up a sign in the booth asking “Where is Roger?” That chorus was repeated time and time again in the fourth quarter. The other star who led the crowd into a frenzy was Jon Bon Jovi, who greeted Bill Belichick with a hug and a kiss on the cheek in pregame. Bon Jovi conducted the crowd as they sang “Living on a Prayer” after a LeGarrette Blount touchdown.

In a game between two high-scoring offenses, it was a crucial goal-line stand in the first half that proved to be the game’s pivotal point. Dont’a Hightower and rookie Vincent Valentine made huge stops on DeAngelo Williams after a touchdown was overturned by replay.

With Tedy Bruschi out for the coin toss as honorary captain for the ninth time, Ben Roethlisberger called tails and it came up heads. As was the case with the AFC championship in Denver in Jan. 2016, when the Patriots elected to receive, the Patriots elected to receive and early on, it was clear why.

Brady came out in a hurry-up offense, throwing over the middle to Martellus Bennett and then finding Julian Edelman on a crossing pattern. The Patriots worked the ball down to the Steelers 13 before settling for a 31-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Brady targeted Malcolm Mitchell on third-and-1. The ball went through his hands and was nearly picked off at the Steelers 5.

The Steelers had third-and-1 at its 31 and instead of giving to Le’Veon Bell for the yard, Roethlisberger went for the downs, throwing deep down the left sideline for Sammie Coates. Eric Rowe was in position to break it up at the last moment.

Brady scrambled to his left on third-and-6 and found a wide open Chris Hogan in the back of the end zone on a blown coverage in the Steelers secondary. The 16-yard toss capped an effective 11-play, 80-yard drive, during which the Patriots converted all three down chances. Hogan had four catches for 58 yards on the drive. The score put the Patriots up, 10-0, with 2:47 left in the first quarter.

With Le’Veon Bell out on the sidelines running in place and apparently trying to loosen up his legs following a left groin strain, the Steelers opened the second quarter by marching down the field and into the red zone with plays from Bell’s backup DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers.

The drive was capped off when Hall ran up the middle for a five-yard TD. In shades of the 2016 AFC championship, when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point following New England’s first touchdown, Chris Boswell pulled the extra point wide left and it was 10-6 Patriots.

The Patriots answered right back. A key play was a third-and-8 conversion after LeGarrette Blount was nailed for a 2-yard loss. Brady hit Hogan for 22 yards on the left sideline. On the next play, Brady handed to Dion Lewis, who ran to the line before turning around a tossing the ball back to Brady. Brady then easily lofted the ball to Hogan, who got behind Steelers safety Mike Mitchell and the secondary for an easy 35-yard touchdown score. It was Hogan’s seventh catch on eight targets for 117 yards in the first 25 minutes of the game.

The Steelers responded by marching down the field. Bell returned for the first play of the drive, taking a handoff and rushing just three yards before trotting gingerly off the field. The rest of the drive featured DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown and Jesse James. But it was drop in the back of the end zone that proved costly as Cobi Hamilton got behind Eric Rowe but dropped a pass. But on the next play, Roethlisberger found Jesse James in the right flat. But it was Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon making the stop on a play that was initially called a touchdown. After review, the ball was placed at the six-inch line.

The Patriots stiffened. Dont’a Hightower got to Williams for a one-yard loss on first down. Vincent Valentine pegged Williams for a three-yard loss and Roethlisberger threw incomplete on third down, forcing the Steelers to settle for a 23-yard field goal.

The Patriots took a 17-9 lead to the locker room for halftime.

Closing Time noteTom Brady had his ninth career playoff game of at least 3 TD passes, tying him with Joe Montana for most all time.

[For a full box score and stats, click here.]

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Jonathan Kraft asked of Colts GM Ryan Grigson’s firing notes Deflategate game: ‘That might have been Ryan’s pinnacle’

01.22.17 at 6:34 pm ET
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Jonathan Kraft took a shot at the Colts before the AFC championship game. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)

Jonathan Kraft took a shot at the Colts before the AFC championship game. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Jonathan Kraft is always up for taking a dig at the Colts.

Appearing on the Patriots radio network pregame show prior to the AFC championship game, Kraft was asked for his thoughts on Ryan Grigson being fired on Saturday.

He also brought up the 2015 AFC championship game, the last time the Colts came to Gillette Stadium, which was also the Deflategate game.

“You would have to ask Jim Irsay about it, Kraft said. “I mean, he would be the one to ask. That game might have been Ryan’s pinnacle, I don’t know. Jimmy can talk about what is going on with the Colts. We’re fortunately playing football today.”

Clearly, there is no love lost for Kraft and the Colts franchise.

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Matt Ryan, Falcons destroy Packers, advance to Super Bowl LI

01.22.17 at 6:31 pm ET
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Matt Ryan and Julio Jones both had huge days as the Falcons blew out the Packers. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones both had huge days as the Falcons blew out the Packers. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

It was supposed to be a shootout, but only one team was ready to fire. The Falcons’ league-best offense shredded the Packers’ defense all day long while the Packers’ offense, which had been pretty dominant in its own right, never really got going as the Falcons rolled to a 44-21 win in the NFC championship game and advanced to Super Bowl LI in Houston. They now await the winner of today’s AFC championship game between the Patriots and Steelers.

As he has all season, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan looked unstoppable, as he completed 27 of 38 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns, while also adding a rushing touchdown. His top target, Julio Jones, also had a monster day, posting nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

The Falcons opened the game with an impressive 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that finished with Ryan flipping a two-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu. The Packers drove to the Falcons’ 23-yard line on their first drive, but Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal attempt, ending his record streak of 23 straight made field goals in the postseason.

Matt Bryant added a 28-yard field goal late in the first to make it 10-0 Falcons, then the Packers shot themselves in the foot again on their first drive of the second quarter. Aaron Ripkowski ripped off a 12-yard run that would’ve put Green Bay inside the red zone, but then he fumbled and the Falcons recovered.

Ryan and the explosive Falcons offense made Green Bay pay, as they once again marched down the field. This time Ryan used his feet to finish off the drive, dashing into the end zone from 14 yards out to make it 17-0.

The Packers may have had a shot to regroup if they could’ve just gotten to the locker room at that point, but it wasn’t to be. Rodgers threw an interception on third-and-long with 1:50 left in the half (although it was such a long pass it basically served as a punt), the Falcons drove down the field again, and Ryan hit Jones with three seconds left in the quarter to up the lead to 24-0.

The Packers’ nightmare day continued in the second half. After a quick three-and-out by the Packers to open the half, Ryan found Jones for a 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Green Bay finally got on the board with a touchdown pass from Rodgers to Davante Adams midway through the third quarter, but the game was over by that point. Ryan added his fourth touchdown pass late in the third on a four-yard strike to Devonta Freeman.

This will be the Falcons’ second ever Super Bowl appearance. They previously appeared in Super Bowl XXXIII, when they lost to the Broncos 34-19 in the final game of John Elway’s career. Sunday’s game was the last ever at the Georgia Dome, as the Falcons move into a new stadium next season.

What does deactivation of Michael Floyd mean for Patriots?

01.22.17 at 5:16 pm ET
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Michael Floyd is inactive for the AFC championship. (Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports)

Michael Floyd is inactive for the AFC championship. (Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — The following Patriots players are inactive for the AFC championship: quarterback Jacoby Brissett, offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, running back DJ Foster, safety Jordan Richards, cornerback Justin Coleman, cornerback Cyrus Jones and wide receiver Michael Floyd.

The biggest name is Floyd, as it means the Patriots will only have four wide receivers active, not including Matthew Slater.

After missing the last two games with a knee injury, Malcolm Mitchell returns to the field. It likely came down to Danny Amendola and Floyd for the final spot and with Amendola’s chemistry with Tom Brady and special teams value, he got the nod.

Amendola could see much more playing time than he did last week and depending on the health of Hogan, Mitchell could be in for a big game as well.

Other than Floyd, there were no major surprises with the inactive list.

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