FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots refuse to go quietly into the night.

Down by 10 early in the fourth quarter, playing without their all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski (out with a head injury suffered in the second quarter), being pushed around by a fierce young defense for much of the game … they again rose to the challenge.

Tom Brady threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Danny Amendola as the Patriots rallied to defeat the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20 in the AFC championship game Sunday at Gillette Stadium – and return to the Super Bowl again.

New England will play in its NFL-record 10th Super Bowl – eighth since 2001 when Brady became Bill Belichick’s starting quarterback – on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, facing the Philadelphia Eagles in a rematch of 2004.

The Patriots are attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back championships since they did it in 2003 and 2004, beating the Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX.

“It’s been an unbelievable run and I think everyone should be really proud of what we accomplished,” said Brady, who played with his injured right thumb taped up.

“It would be really great if we take care of business in a couple of weeks.”

Playing in the AFC championship game for the seventh consecutive year and 12th time in the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots were pushed to their limits by the Jaguars. Jacksonville led 14-3 in the second quarter and 20-10 with 14:52 remaining in the game after Josh Lambo’s second field goal of the game, a 43-yarder.

It was then that Brady and the Patriots’ defense stepped forward.

The defense finally shackled Jacksonville in the fourth quarter, holding the Jaguars to 62 yards and two first downs.

They took away the Jaguars’ running game, holding Leonard Fournette to 3 yards on four rushes in the fourth. Safety Patrick Chung came up to make a couple of tackles, and James Harrison, Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown played stout at the line.

And they kept Jacksonville from converting on third down. The Jaguars were 4 of 6 on third down in the first half, 2 of 9 in the second half, including 0 of 5 in the fourth quarter.

Safety Devin McCourty said it wasn’t about tactical adjustments, just being more aggressive.

“We needed to come off blocks and we needed to tackle better,” he said. “And we did that.”

McCourty started it by stopping Allen Hurns 1 yard shy of a first down on third-and-8 on Jacksonville’s first series of the fourth. The Patriots got the ball back at their 15 and Brady calmly drove them 85 yards in eight plays for a touchdown, a 9-yard pass to Amendola with 8:44 left that made it 20-17. The key play was a flea-flicker that resulted in a 31-yard pass from Brady to Phillip Dorsett.

The defense, after giving up a 20-yard pass to Hurns, forced another punt. The Patriots couldn’t do anything and punted, but the defense forced another three-and-out – cornerback Eric Rowe making a big play to break up a pass to Hurns – and another punt.

This one Amendola fielded and returned to the left for 20 yards and a first down at the Jacksonville 30. “It just comes down to making a play when you get the ball in your hands, following a block or two or seeing any opening space to get to,” he said. “That was it.”

On first down, Brady hit James White with a screen pass for 15 yards. Then Amendola for 8. Brady sneaked in for a first down to the 5.

After a White run gained 1 yard, Brady dropped back, looked left to Brandin Cooks, then turned to see Amendola cutting across the back of the end zone from the right. The pass was high. Amendola jumped, caught it, then tapped both feet inbounds for the touchdown.

“He’s got great hands and just a great sense about where he’s at on the field,” said Brady. “He’s made so many big plays for us and this was huge … It was an incredible play.”

Still, it was up to the defense to make one last stand. Bortles threw a 29-yard pass to Dede Westbrook, who leaped over Stephon Gilmore to make the catch at the Patriots’ 48. On second down, Kyle Van Noy and Harrison sacked Bortles for a 9-yard loss. On fourth-and-15, Bortles threw deep to Westbrook again. but this time Gilmore batted the pass away, giving the Patriots the ball – and for all intents the AFC title – with 1:47 left.

“We fell behind and made more plays at the end,” said Belichick. “Played better defensively, played well in the kicking game, played well offensively when we needed to. I think that’s really the mark of this team and these players. When we need it the most, that’s when we played our best.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.