The banner overlooking the field held true Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. With a 36-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, only one more game remains for the New England Patriots. And it’ll be played in Houston on Feb. 5 versus the Atlanta Falcons.
But before the focus shifts to Super Bowl LI, here’s one more glance at what transpired to get there – in numbers form.
Sunday night marked the 33rd playoff appearance of Tom Brady’s career, extending the 39-year-old’s own record for the most by any player in NFL postseason history. The quarterback on the opposite sideline, Ben Roethlisberger, concurrently set a Steelers record by appearing in his 20th playoff game.
The Patriots have won 24 of Brady’s 33 playoff contests, also extending an all-time record. Brady’s 24 postseason wins under center has pulled away from Joe Montana’s 16, as well as the 14 that Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Peyton Manning all notched.
Bill Belichick logged his 25th postseason victory as head coach with the win over Pittsburgh. Belichick, who went 1-1 in the playoffs while heading the Cleveland Browns, has gone 24-9 during his tenure in Foxborough. Tom Landry and Don Shula rank second and third, respectively on the all-time postseason wins list among head coaches, with 20 and 19.
The bout versus Pittsburgh signified the 11th AFC title game for the Belichick and Brady. No other coach-quarterback duo had earned more than six conference championship appearances since the league’s 1970 merger. Belichick and Brady have earned six straight.
The Patriots will advance to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in the era of Belichick and Brady, a record that already set the coach and quarterback in the company of their own when they got there together for the sixth time. As far as Lombardi trophies go, Belichick and Brady are currently linked at four with Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll and Bradshaw.
Brady, who connected with Chris Hogan for two touchdowns and Julian Edelman for another, has now thrown 61 TD passes over the course of his playoff career. That furthers his postseason distance from Montana and Brett Favre. Those two Hall of Famers finished with 45 and 44 touchdowns, respectively, in playoff action.
With his trio of touchdown strikes, Brady tied Montana for most three-plus TD games in playoff history with nine. Brady had gone without three-plus passing touchdowns through his previous three playoff contests.
A new postseason career-high in passing yards would also be in the cards for Brady. He went 32-of-42 for 384 yards versus Pittsburgh, breaking his previous best of 367, set against the Baltimore Ravens in January of 2015.
With eight catches against the Steelers’ defense, Julian Edelman surpassed Thurman Thomas on the NFL’s all-time postseason receptions list. The Patriots wideout, who has been in the fold for 14 playoff games since arriving in 2009 and became the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff catches last weekend, now has 84 catches on his resume. Andre Reed, Michael Irvin, Welker, Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne and Jerry Rice loom ahead of him.
Edelman’s receptions carried yards along with them. And in the first quarter on Sunday night, the eight-year pro surpassed Deion Branch as New England’s all-time leader in postseason receiving yards. Edelman finished the AFC title tilt with 118 receiving yards and is up to 937 in his playoff archives.
Edelman has reeled in at least 70 receiving yards in his last 10 games. He’s tallied 1,003 yards through the air since New England’s bye in Week 9.
Edelman would not be the only Patriots receiver to eclipse the century mark versus Pittsburgh. Hogan joined him and then some, setting the franchise’s single-game postseason record with 180 receiving yards to go with the pair of touchdowns on a team-high nine grabs.
Edelman and Hogan became the first two Patriots to hit 100 receiving yards in one postseason game since 1963, according to Pro Football Reference. Back then, when the Boston Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills by a score of 26-8, it was Gino Cappelletti and Larry Garron who did so.
Jan. 10, 2010 versus the Baltimore Ravens checks in as the last time Stephen Gostkowski missed a postseason field-goal attempt. The second longest-tenured Patriot has converted on his last 20 field goals, answering all three opportunities in his latest showing.
Entering Sunday, Le’Veon Bell had accrued 37 carries for 155 rushing yards and 14 catches for 133 yards in his first two encounters with New England – good for 5.6 yards per touch. But a groin injury suffered early on would leave Pittsburgh’s two-time Pro Bowl running back with just 20 yards of offense on six carries. Bell had averaged a simmering 178.8 yards of offense dating back to Week 11.
Antonio Brown needed no introduction to those on hand at Gillette. The perennial All-Pro, with four consecutive seasons with more than 100 catches and 1,000 yards, had faced the Patriots four times before. And in those meetings, he had accumulated 30 receptions for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Brown would go on to lead the Steelers with seven receptions for 77 yards on Sunday, but he became the No. 1 priority for the Patriots’ secondary as Bell exited and DeAngelo Williams stepped in, funneling targets to the often-overlooked likes of Eli Rogers, Jesse James, Cobi Hamilton and Sammie Coates.
One player’s presence isn’t a cure-all, but the Patriots’ run defense certainly wasn’t hindered by Alan Branch’s. Per the CBS broadcast, the Steelers averaged 1.9 yards over the 18 run plays in which the veteran defensive tackle was on the field.
LeGarrette Blount had more carries than he did yards up until the 12:42 mark in the third quarter, but the big back would begin to rumble thenceforth. Blount finished with 47 yards along with a touchdown on 16 carries against his former team, most notably moving a hoard of Steelers for a 15-yard gain to set up his TD.
The Patriots have now walked away victorious in their last four meetings with the Steelers. Oct. 30, 2011 was the date of the last Pittsburgh win over New England, and 25-17 was that matchup’s final score at Heinz Field. The Patriots have won by scores of 55-31, 28-21, 27-16 and 36-17 since then.
New England’s defense has put together five takeaways through the first two games of the playoff run. After three Rutgers alums in Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty picked off the Houston Texans last Saturday, it would be Brigham Young’s Kyle Van Noy to force a fumble and Utah’s Eric Rowe to intercept another versus Pittsburgh.
New England improved to a 31-19 all-time playoff record by defeating Pittsburgh. Just the fourth organization with more than 30 postseason wins, the Patriots are closing in on the Green Bay Packers’ 33, the Dallas Cowboys’ 34, and fittingly, the Steelers’ 35.