FOXBORO -- Here are a few quick-hitting impressions from Sunday's AFC title game, which resulted in the Patriots making their seventh Super Bowl under head coach Bill Belichick . . .
PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17
- Roethlisberger takes aim at young Steelers teammates after loss to Patriots
- Brady on Hogan after record-setting night: 'He's been incredible'
- Patriots defense carried chip on its shoulder all the way to the Super Bowl
- Bennett on Goodell: 'Where is he? He's like Waldo right now'
- TB Times features Brady 'torching' Steelers
- Brady: 'This is my motivation right here'
- Roger Goodell taunted by Scott Zolak and Patriots fans
- A record-setting day for Tom Brady
* The Patriots defense has heard "yeah, but" all season. They finished the season as the top scoring defense in the league, but because they've faced a spate of mediocre (or worse) quarterbacks since a Week 10 loss to the Seahawks, there have been some reservations about crowning them as a championship-caliber. Those reservations evaporated as Ben Roethlisberger was held to 239 yards on 24-of-38 passing (6.3 yards per attempt), no touchdowns and one interception before Roethlisberger picked up some easy yards late in the fourth quarter with the Patriots defense hanging back. Roethlisberger did hit Cobi Hamilton for a 30-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, adding a two-point conversion to make the score, 36-17.
* Matt Patricia's unit can hang its hat on one particularly impressive goal-line stand at the end of the second quarter, when the Steelers had a first-and-goal from the one-yard line. On that goal-line stand, the Patriots stuffed a DeAngelo Williams run with good penetration from Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung. On a second-down rush attempt, rookie defensive tackle Vincent Valentine powered through the line almost untouched and made a tackle for a three-yard loss. Roethlisberger took to the air on third down, missing Eli Rogers (with Eric Rowe in good position) to force a field goal.
* The Patriots plan of attack seemed to be to rely on zone coverage for good chunks of the night, forcing Roethlisberger to string together a series of well-executed plays to drive the field. When the Steelers got deeper into Patriots territory, when the defense benefited from a more tightly-packed field -- situations where the Steelers offense has struggled this season, particularly on the road -- the Patriots were able to clamp down. Not only did they pick up their goal-line stop in the second quarter, they also forced a turnover on downs deep in their own territory in the fourth quarter when Logan Ryan broke up Roethlisberger's floater to the back corner of the end zone.
* The Patriots wisely doubled Antonio Brown at different points, but particularly in the red zone. The goal seemed to be to very obviously take away the first-team All-Pro -- as they did in Week 7 when Landry Jones was at quarterback -- and force Roethlisberger to go elsewhere. Roethlisberger had some luck going to tight end Jesse James (five catches 48 yards) deep in Patriots territory, but not enough for the Patriots to change their plan.
* Le'Veon Bell's groin injury in the first quarter took away what was arguably Pittsburgh's best weapon coming in. He was shaken up on the Steelers' third drive of the game, returned to take one hand-off, but looked slow to the line of scrimmage (which, granted, is kind of his running style even when he's healthy) and did not return. He finished with six carries for 20 yards (a 3.3 yards-per-carry average). Williams was Pittsburgh's leading rusher, taking 14 hand-offs for 34 yards (a 2.4 yards-per-carry average). Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch had yet another strong outing, chipping in on at least three run-stuffs. Trey Flowers and Malcom Brown were in on at least two of their own as well.
* A pair of first-year Patriots played big roles in the defensive performance put together against Roethlisberger and Co. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy, acquired mid-season in a trade with the Lions, forced a fumble in the third quarter that was recovered by Rob Ninkovich. In the fourth, Eric Rowe easily picked off a Roethlisberger overthrow to stop another Steelers drive before it could start.