The New England Patriots recorded a rather easy 36-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game to earn a record seventh trip to the Super Bowl where they will face NFC champion Atlanta. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led a game-opening scoring drive, one that set the tone for Sunday night’s win. Brady completed 32-of-42 passes for a postseason career-high 384 yards and three touchdowns. The Pittsburgh defense just had no answer for one of the game’s greatest ever.
New England’s first drive ended in a Stephen Gostkowski 31-yard field goal, one of three he would make in the game. The Patriots owned Pittsburgh in nearly every statistical category. The Patriots had 431 yards of total offense, 26 first downs, and led in time of possession. The Steelers committed two turnovers and managed a mere nine points until quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit WR Cobi Hamilton on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 3:36 left to play in the game.
Once again, the Steelers failed to play well on the road. Leading rusher Le’Veon Bell left the game late in the first quarter with a groin injury. He did not return and the Pittsburgh ground game was never the same. The Steelers got close once when DeAngelo Williams scored on a five-yard run capping a 13-play, 84-yard scoring drive. The plight of the Steelers was evident when Chris Boswell missed the extra point leaving New England ahead, 10-6.
Then, Brady and unlikely hero, wide receiver Chris Hogan, took over. Hogan, a fourth-year pro out of Monmouth, caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Nine different receivers caught passes from Brady including Patriots leading receiver Julian Edelman, who ended up with eight catches for 118 yards and one touchdown.
Roethlisberger, who hasn’t played well on the road all season, ended up 31-for-47 for 314 yards and the one touchdown to Hamilton. He did throw one interception and the lack of a running game didn’t help. The Steelers managed just 54 yards on the ground. The Patriots will have an opportunity to tie San Francisco and Dallas for second place in Super Bowl wins with five. The Steelers have the most with six.
Bing & Cortana correctly predicted Patriots to win. (70% chance)
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. One of the hottest teams in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers, had won eight straight and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was giving Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan all he could handle in the race for the league MVP. Ryan and the Falcons came out on top in huge fashion with a 44-21 drubbing of Green Bay in the NFC Championship game.
It was 31-0 before the Packers got on the board. Ryan, giving his best to secure the league MVP, threw touchdown passes to receivers Mohammed Sanu and Julio Jones. Jones’ second touchdown reception came at the start of the second half, a 73-yarder that pushed the scored to 31-0. Jones would end the day with nine receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Sanu would catch five passes for 52 yards and the one score.
Ryan had a record-setting day completing 27-of-38 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns. He became the first Falcons player to throw for four touchdowns and have a rushing TD in a postseason game. Ryan scored on a 14-yard run midway through the second quarter giving Atlanta a 17-0 lead. He would connect with Jones for his first TD reception with just three second left in the half capping a nine-play, 68-yard drive.
The Packers had turned the ball over just once in its eight-game winning streak, but gave it away twice to the Falcons on Sunday. Rodgers completed 27-of-45 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns, decent numbers for the Packers star. The only problem is that all three scoring passes came with the game well out of reach. Rodgers did throw an interception too, just his second in the last eight games.
Atlanta dominated every facet of the game racking up 493 total yards of offense. The Atlanta defense pressured Rodgers all game long. The Falcons also kept the Packers running game in check. Rodgers wound up as Green Bay’s leading rusher with 46 yards.
The Falcons will take their NFL-best offense to Super Bowl 51 against the league’s best defense. The Patriots gave up just 15.6 points per game during the regular season and in two playoff games gave up 17 and 16. Atlanta’s offense averaged 33.8 in the regular season and put up 36 against Seattle and 44 on Sunday against Green Bay.
Cortana and Bing correctly predicted the Falcons to win (63% chance). 100% accuracy puts Cortana & Bing to 169 – 97 (63.5%) on the season.