There was no shortage of drama and big storylines heading into the NFL’s championship weekend. The four teams remaining were the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC and the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC. Entering the AFC Championship in Foxboro, MA this Sunday, Jan. 21, there were two primary questions dominating the headlines.
First was how would the young Jaguars fare against the experienced Patriots in Jacksonville’s first AFC Championship game since 1999? Second was how would Tom Brady perform with his injured thumb on his throwing hand? Those were questions could only be answered on the field Sunday afternoon in Foxboro. The game itself was quite an exciting one. The first quarter of the game was rather uneventful, ending with the Patriots ahead of Jacksonville 3-0. The second quarter, however, was almost all Jacksonville. Bortles and company culminated a drive that began at the end of the first quarter with a four-yard touchdown pass to 12-year veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis. Following a quick three-and- out by New England, the Jaguars marched right back down the field yet again in a 10 play, 77-yard drive that was capped off by a short touchdown run by star rookie running back Leonard Fournette.
After exchanging a pair of punts, Brady and the Patriots got the ball back trailing by 11 points with just over two minutes remaining in the first half. In classic Brady fashion, the Patriots marched straight down the field, gaining 85 yards and scoring a touchdown in barely more than a minute to cut the Jacksonville lead to just four with 55 seconds left in the half.
Jacksonville was able to move the ball well on their ensuing drive, but they had to score on this drive to have a chance to win. They got down into New England territory with two minutes remaining, but Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore made the play of his career and defended a Bortles pass on fourth down, which practically iced the win for the Patriots who are moving on to the Super Bowl.
The biggest questions entering the NFC Championship were about how backup quarterback Nick Foles would fare against the dominant Vikings defense and how would the Vikings play following their miracle victory against the Saints a week prior. The answer was that Nick Foles, who had been mediocre at best in his filling in for Carson Wentz, played like Hall of Famer, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Eagles made Case Keenum and the Vikings look more like the Browns than a team one game away from the Super Bowl.
The Viking scored a touchdown on their first drive to go up 7-0, but from that point forward it was all Eagles in front of their home crowd. By halftime it was 24-7 Eagles, with scores coming on a pick-six by Patrick Robinson, a strong run by LeGarrette Blount and amazing 53-yard touchdown pass by Foles to wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey.
After demoralizing Minnesota in the first half, the Eagles came out firing again to start the third quarter. Foles and the Eagles capped off an eight-play, 75-yard drive with a deep flea flicker pass to Torrey Smith to give the Eagles an insurmountable 31-7 lead.
Philadelphia went on to score another touchdown late in the game with another pass to Jeffrey, and the Eagles, who were home underdogs to Minnesota, came away with a statement 38-7 victory to move on to the Super Bowl.
This year’s Super Bowl should make for an exciting matchup between the two teams who appeared to be the league’s most dominant all season.
Over the past several years, it has almost become a given that Brady and the Patriots will reach the Super Bowl, but they will be facing a foe who has not been there since they lost to New England in 2004 when the Eagles’ stars were Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens.