QB Tom Brady was almost flawless
Brady finished the day 32 of 42 (76.2%) for 384, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, with a passer rating of 127.5. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady was on target for 36 of his 39 targeted passes (2 throwaways and 1 spike). He also suffered from 3 drops. He was perfect against the blitz. He was perfect on the deep ball. He was phenomenal on third down.
What more could you ask for?
Brady has a long history of success against the Steelers defense, so it’s a little shocking that Pittsburgh didn’t change-up their game plan. It was like Brady had been preparing for this test over the course of his entire career. This was one of his best postseason games ever, and when you factor in the stakes (conference title game), this might actually have been his best performance, ever.
WR Chris Hogan finally had his breakout game
Hogan had been on the cusp of having a breakout game ever since Brady returned from suspension. However, he only picked up 5 receptions once all year (week 14, Ravens) and never really took over a game, despite making big plays.
Well, this game was different. Hogan brought in 9 of 12 targets for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns and he absolutely stole the show. He was catching almost everything that came his way and it seemed like every single play was 20+ yards down the field.
WR Julian Edelman continued his hot streak
The two most productive games of Edelman’s career came in week 17 against the Miami Dolphins and in the Divisional Round against the Houston Texans. Edelman was unable to maintain his torrid pace of production, but he still managed to collect 8 of 10 targets for 118 yards and a touchdown. This was “only” tied for the 6th best day of his career.
Edelman is a walking flame emoji.
He is now up to 84 career playoff receptions. It’s possible for Edelman to reach #2 in the all time list with a big Super Bowl performance:
2. Reggie Wayne, 93
t-3. Hines Ward, 88
t-3. Wes Welker, 88
5. Michael Irvin, 87
6. Andre Reed, 85
7. Julian Edelman, 84
Up-and-down day for cornerbacks Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe...
Ryan led the Patriots defense with 9 tackles and he had one pass defense on a crucial end zone fade, but he also struggled at times to cover Steelers slot receiver Eli Rogers. Rogers finished the game with 66 yards on 7 receptions, so it’s not like he took over the game, but he was more productive than the Patriots would have liked, especially on third down.
Rowe had problems of his own against Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Patriots had Rowe match up against the big Steelers receivers and he was continuously beaten on go routes; he was fortunate that the Steelers receivers have stone hands. Hamilton collected a 30-yard touchdown in garbage time, the first 30+ yard touchdown the Patriots allowed all year. But Rowe added a key interception and another pass defense, so it wasn’t all bad.
...but Malcolm Butler notched first win over Antonio Brown
The Steelers superstar receiver picked up 77 yards on 7 receptions, which the Patriots would have taken in a heartbeat if they were offered that deal before the game. It’s even more impressive when you realize that Brown didn’t produce all of that against Butler. Brown had zero catches with Butler in coverage over the first half, and 2 catches for 24 yards over the course of the entire game.
Brown had gotten the best of Butler in the first two match-ups, but the third time was the charm as Butler shut down one of the best receivers in the league. Next up? Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones, the only receive able to challenge Brown for the title of “best receiver in the league.”
Patriots have reached the 7th Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick era
There’s not much more you can say here. The Patriots have reached the Super Bowl for an NFL-record 9th time in franchise history. Belichick and Brady have formed the greatest coach-player duo in league history and have reached an astounding 7 Super Bowls. Only the Steelers, Cowboys, and Broncos have reached more than 7 Super Bowls in the entirety of their franchises’ existence.
This is an unprecedented streak of success.
You have to be excited for the new guys
Veterans like Martellus Bennett and Chris Long have wanted to be a part of a winning culture and they’ve found it. Perhaps this taste of the Super Bowl will be enough for both to come back in 2017 on team-friendly deals.