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Bill Belichick says Jon Bon Jovi ‘had the place rocking, maybe a little more than we did’ 01.23.17 at 2:16 pm ET
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Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates with recording artist Jon Bon Jovi after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick celebrates with rocker Jon Bon Jovi after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick paid old friend Jon Bon Jovi quite the compliment Monday.

About 12 hours after his team dismantled the Steelers, 36-17, in the AFC championship in front of the rock icon, Belichick said he actually paid attention to the crowd singing to one of Bon Jovi’s greatest hits.

The Patriots coach may not have known who won the NFC championship before his team took the field Sunday but he certainly didn’t block out the music once his team got rockin’ in the third quarter.

Once LeGarrette Blount bowled in from one-yard out to make it 27-9, “Living on a Prayer” started blasting over the sound system throughout the stadium and then – on cue – the video boards showed a shot of the artist who performed the song in the suite with Rob Gronkowski. Bon Jovi smiled and then started conducting the crowd in an acapella version, which rang throughout the stadium.

“Yeah, I was definitely aware of it,” Belichick said Monday in a conference call. “Jon… I mean I’ve heard him play that song dozens of times, but he had the place rocking, maybe a little more than we did. Yeah, pretty impressive. He’s a great friend, been a great friend for a long time all the way back into the 80’s.

“We’ve shared a lot of great moments together including the 1990 Super Bowl in Tampa where he was in the locker room after the game still taking crazy pictures and stuff like that; great memories from there. It was great to have Jon here and I always appreciate his great support. Yeah, it was quite a moment, one that you usually don’t see at a professional football game. Yeah, it was special.”

Bon Jovi gave Belichick a good luck hug and peck on the cheek after the Patriots concluded their on-field warmups before heading back into their locker room one final time before kickoff. Bon Jovi, a former owner of the Philadelphia Soul (2004-08) of the Arena Football League, is a frequent visitor to Patriots training camp. But his roots with Belichick go back to his days in New Jersey with the Giants.

“Jon is a big Giants fan,” Belichick said. “He grew up in New Jersey, so when I was coaching the Giants. We had a lot in common. We both liked the Giants.”

Bon Jovi was quick to bond with Belichick but not so much Bill Parcells.

“I don’t think Bill [Parcells] was a big Bon Jovi fan or Bruce Springsteen fan or anything like that,” Belichick said. “It wasn’t exactly his musical style at that point in time. Some of the younger coaches on the staff, one in particular connected to him. [Sean] Landeta, you know Sean was another one. Sean and Jon and I – we’ve done a few things together. Yeah, back to the Jersey-Giants days.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, jon bon jovi, New England Patriots,
Bill Belichick admits his players ‘put up with a lot from me’ but proves it’s all worth it at 1:39 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had quite a run. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had quite a run. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — When cameras caught Martellus Bennett doing the pom-poms with Patriots cheerleaders after New England’s 36-17 win over the Steelers in the AFC championship, it was equal parts celebration of going to the Super Bowl and relief after passing the latest Bill Belichick exam.

What did Belichick think of Bennett’s cheerleading tryout?

“Yeah, I missed all of the dancing with the cheerleaders; sorry. We’ll have to get a replay on that,” Belichick said on Monday’s conference call. “But you know, I’d say just in general it’s great to, obviously it was a great win for our team and our organization last night, but it’s great to see the players who have worked so hard take so much satisfaction in their relationship with their teammates and the goal that they accomplished last night.”

Bennett, who is headed home to Houston for his first Super Bowl appearance, caught five passes on all five targets from Tom Brady on Sunday, amassing 32 yards. He was the third-leading receiver behind Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman.

Bennett is just one example of what Belichick has always sought in his players – a firm belief in the team as one. Bennett came to New England from Chicago in the final year of his four-year deal. He’s used it as a platform to show his talents for a new deal in New England or elsewhere – and he’s done it while playing over half the season with a broken bone in his right ankle.

“Another step in a season where the team has already won 16 games but it was another significant step,” Belichick added Monday. “When you see them reacting and congratulating each other and celebrating like that, you know you have a closeness on the team that is special. I mentioned that last night and it’s true. These guys, they work hard. They put up with a lot from me and they put up with a lot of significant demands and requirements here, but it’s done with the intent to try and produce a good product and a good team.”

For as much as he is considered super serious and rigid, Belichick has always encouraged his team to celebrate big plays and big games with one another. The team that wins together celebrates together, and vice versa.

“They buy into it,” Belichick said. “They perform well in critical situations like [Sunday] night. I take a lot of satisfaction in seeing them achieve that because they’ve worked so hard for it and I think they deserve it, but you’ve got to go out and prove it.

“Again, going back to [author] Jerry Izenberg – ‘No Medals for Trying.’ [The 1990 book on the New York Giants] This time of year everybody tries hard. Everybody has a good team that is still playing. You’re only rewarded for achievement. Last night we were fortunate enough to earn that. It’s a great feeling to see everybody have that kind of interaction with each other and feel so good about their teammates and the guys they’ve worked so hard with.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerry Izenberg, Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick reminds everyone why Pats are in Super Bowl: ‘We take the hand we’re dealt and play the cards’ at 1:11 am ET
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FOXBORO — No one appreciates hard work and team unity more than Bill Belichick.

It’s those two qualities the Patriots coach pointed to when summarizing his feelings following a 36-17 win over the Steelers Sunday in the AFC Championship that sends him to a record seventh Super Bowl as a head coach.

Specifically, Belichick was asked about his thoughts when reflecting on what his team has accomplished despite overcoming some major obstacles this year. Beginning with Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, continuing with the trade of Jamie Collins and then the injury to Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have overcome a great deal to reach their record ninth Super Bowl as a franchise.

“Yeah, well we never dwell on that,” Belichick said. “We take the hand that we’re dealt and play the cards. We’re very fortunate. We have a good team. We have a lot of good players. We have good depth. Nick Caserio and his staff, Dave Ziegler on the pro side, Monti [Ossenfort] on the college side and all of the guys that work in there. I mean they’ve done a great job of helping to build the depth on this team. Look, every team has injuries. Every team loses a player. It’s unfortunate, but that’s life in the NFL.

“But we’ve had players that have been able to work hard, be prepared and take advantage of those opportunities and help the team win in all three units and really in every game. You referenced the beginning of the year but it’s been true in every game really. It’s a credit to those guys. It’s a credit to the depth on our team and the way that those guys prepare. They work hard. They don’t know if they’re going to get an opportunity or not and then when it finally comes and they do get it, they’re usually ready to take advantage of it and help the team win.”

Thanks to the play of Tom Brady and his team’s overall execution of a well-thought out game plan, there wasn’t much adversity to overcome Sunday.

“That’s why we’re where we are,” Belichick continued. “We have a special team, a special group of guys that really work hard. They deserve the success that they’ve had. I mean it’s hard to win 16 games in this league. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the players and the job they’ve done all year week after week. It’s tough but they come in and grind it out. They sit in these seats for hours, and hours, and hours, and prepare, and prepare, and go out there and lay it on the line every week. Again, it’s a good group of men.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers,
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.

Read More: Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan Hannable
Snap Judgments: Tom Brady, Chris Hogan rock Steelers, Patriots advance to record 9th Super Bowl 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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Scene-setting from Gillette: Patriots, Steelers race to become first to 9 Super Bowl appearances at 2:03 pm ET
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The stage is set for the AFC Championship between the Patriots and Steelers Sunday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — The stage is set at Gillette Stadium for NFL history to be made.

The winner of the AFC championship will become the first team ever to appear in nine Super Bowl games.

When the Patriots and Steelers square off, the weather will be relatively mild. Temperatures are expected in the mid-to-upper 40s for the 6:40 p.m. kickoff. There is a chance of precipitation around 8 p.m. or around halftime of the game. Wind could be a factor, with a gust out of the northeast expected between 10 and 12 MPH.

Otherwise, cloudy skies will give way to darkness as the two teams battle for the third time in AFC championship history. The previous two encounters have taken place at Heinz Field. In Jan. 2002, the Patriots beat the Steelers, 24-17, to advance to Super Bowl XXXVI. Three years later, the Patriots beat the then-rookie Roethlisberger, 41-27, to head to Super Bowl XXXIX. In that game, Rodney Harrison intercepted Roethlisberger just before halftime and raced for the touchdown that gave the Patriots a 24-3 halftime lead.

Tom Brady is looking to advance to his record seventh Super Bowl, as is head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots are 4-1 in the five previous AFC championship games at Gillette Stadium and Brady has never lost to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Gillette, going 4-0 against him. Roethlisberger’s only win at Gillette came in Nov. 2008 when he beat the Patriots, 33-10, in a game that featured Matt Cassel as the New England signal caller.

Brady has carved up the Steelers in his career. In two playoff games, he’s completed 26-of-39 passes for 489 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall, in posting a 9-2 mark against the Steelers, he has completed over 68 percent of his passes, with 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Since 2007, Brady has 19 touchdowns without an interception, while posting a 5-1 record.

The Patriots are making their record sixth straight AFC championship game appearance and 13th overall. They are 8-4 overall in the previous 12. They have lost three of the last four. Pittsburgh is making its record 16th appearance in the game, and have a 8-7 mark in the previous 15.

On the injury front, Malcolm Mitchell is expected to dress and be active for the game after missing the regular season finale and the Texans playoff game with a knee injury. The activation gives the Patriots the chance to dress five pure wide receivers if they so choose. Meanwhile, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, tight end Martellus Bennett has been playing with cracked bone and bone chips in his right ankle since suffering the initial injury against the Browns on Oct. 9. Bennett had just one catch for four yards in the 34-16 win over the Texans.

The Steelers dealt with the flu all week, as up to 15 players were reported to have symptoms that limited them in practice during the week. Le’Veon Bell missed practice Wednesday and Thursday for personal reasons before returning Friday.

The Steelers also had their sleep disrupted Saturday night as someone pulled the fire alarm at their hotel.

Chris Price has the complete scouting report while Ryan Hannable has 20 fun facts to consider heading into the game.

Read More: AFC Championship, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots
An ‘anxious’ Tom Brady ready for the ‘big build-up’ to Sunday: ‘Hopefully, we’re up for it’ 01.20.17 at 5:50 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For Tom Brady, there’s a fine line between being nervous and simply being anxious for a big game.

For the 11th time in his career, the Patriots quarterback will be playing Sunday night for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. He is 6-4 as a starter in the previous ten trips.

At Gillette Stadium, Brady has been beaten just once in five previous AFC championship games.

Brady was asked if, at the age of 39, he still feels nervous in the hours and days before taking the field for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

“No, I think you just get anxious for games, because there is a big build-up to them and you prepare pretty hard,” Brady said. “So, you finally get out there and play, because you feel like you’ve built up the whole week on the practice field and you’ve talked about a lot of situations and you’ve just got to see how they play out. I think it’s just more anxiousness.”

Brady has certainly played his fair share of physical defenses, from the Jets and Bart Scott to the Ravens and Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs to the Broncos and Von Miller. Now, it’s James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Lawrence Timmons and Stephon Tuitt and the Steelers who will be getting after Brady.

If Brady has proven anything this season, he can take a hit and still execute. Even last week, while taking a beating from Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus and throwing a pair of interceptions, he managed to stand in the pocked and fire a pair of touchdown passes.

Is there anything that intimidates Brady?

“I don’t know if intimidate is the word. I think you always go into the game understanding what gets you beat and cautious of the things they do well,” Brady said Friday. “I don’t think it’s necessarily intimidation. I think what helps you win and lose is really good performance and execution and so forth.”

As for his teammates, Brady is not worried about his teammates being mentally ready for Sunday.

“I think a lot of guys know how to get ready to go, and coach does a good job of preparing them,” Brady said. “I think part of the veteran responsibility is to let some of those guys know anything that you might know as a player, or feel as a player going into a big game like this. So, you try to convey those messages over the course of the week of practice, and basically all the time. Wherever you are you try to let other guys know some of your experiences and how to deal with them. But a lot of people ask questions, and some people take the information and retain it and others don’t. So, you just try to do the best you can do.

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