After letting Brandon LaFell go during the offseason, the New England Patriots were in need for another perimeter receiver to complement the likes of returning veterans Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They found one within the ranks of a divisional rival: Buffalo Bills wideout Chris Hogan, who was a restricted free agent at that point in time.
The Patriots signed the then 27-year old to a 3-year, $12 million offer sheet structured in a way that made it tough for the Bills to match. Consequently, Buffalo let Hogan go. And yesterday he played a vital role in helping his new team reach Super Bowl LI.
Hogan entered the AFC title game with a solid 2016 stat line. He had caught 42 passes for 675 yards and four touchdowns as New England’s number two wide receiver prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had shown an ablitity to stretch the field vertically and be on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady.
In week 12 against another AFC North team, the Baltimore Ravens, their connection worked at its best as Hogan set a new career-high in receiving yards with 129. Brady and Hogan were unable to duplicate their success afterwards – until yesterday.
Brady looked Hogan’s way early and often. On a 3rd and 1 midway through the first quarter, Brady hit Hogan for a gain of 4. On the next play, he hit him for a gain of 26, then again for 11 yards. Three plays after that, Hogan was wide open in the end zone and Brady found him for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead.
On New England’s next possession, the connection continued to shred the Steelers secondary. Pickups of 4 and 22 yards preceeded a 34-yard touchdown strike off a flea-flicker. Hogan and Brady continued their dominant performance – something Brady noted during his postgame press conference when asked about Hogan's importance to the offense:
He's been incredible. I mean, to lead the league in average yards per catch is spectacular. He's made big plays for us all season, he made big plays in the biggest game of the year for us.
As Brady noted, Hogan made big plays all day long. Overall, five of New England’s six longest plays of the day were pass connections to the former Buffalo Bill.
Chris Hogan ultimately finished with new career highs in catches (8), yards (180, simultaneously a franchise postseason record) and touchdowns (2). And, most importantly, his second playoff win to set up the first Super Bowl appearance of his career.