The New England Patriots saved their most impressive win for their most important game of the season, steadily pulling away from the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 36-17 victory at Gillette Stadium that sends Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to their seventh Super Bowl as a duo.
Pittsburgh's offense was sapped of its heart and soul when Le'Veon Bell left the game with a groin injury in the second quarter, marking the third straight year they've been knocked out of the playoffs with their All-Pro back sidelined due to injury. But the reasoning for this loss went beyond the loss of Bell.
The defense was surgically picked apart by Tom Brady, who totaled 384 passing yards and three touchdowns. Chris Hogan hauled in two of them and compiled a Patriots playoff record 180 receiving yards. It was also a postseason record for most receiving yards in a game by an undrafted player. And LeGarette Blount powered to a tough 47 yards capped off by a one-yard touchdown plunge.
Meanwhile, Steelers star wideout Antonio Brown (seven receptions, 77 yards) had a largely forgettable game. He had made headlines for broadcasting a postgame locker room speech by coach Mike Tomlin over Facebook Live after Pittsburgh's divisional round win against the Kansas City Chiefs.
PIttsburgh didn't muster a touchdown until the game was decided in the fourth quarter, ending an eight-quarter scoreless skid. It was a sobering way to end a nine-game winning streak.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are now on a nine-game run of their own ahead of their Super Bowl LI matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. Winning that game in Houston at NRG Stadium would be the fifth championship claimed by the most dominant coach-quarterback combination of this generation -- and maybe, of all time.