Eagles

Patriots advance to 8th Super Bowl in Brady, Belichick era

Patriots advance to 8th Super Bowl in Brady, Belichick era

BOX SCORE

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Give ‘em a hand: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl.

Brady shook off a hand injury and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 remaining , rallying the Patriots to a 24-20 comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship Sunday.

Brady, wearing a black bandage on his right hand after needing stitches to close a cut that happened on a play during practice earlier in the week, showed no signs of being hampered.

And, with the game -- and the season -- possibly on the line, the Patriots star came up big again.

"I've had a lot worse," Brady said. "I didn't know that on Wednesday. It was a crazy injury. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was a little scary. Then I started getting some confidence and today we did just enough to win."

Brady finished 26 of 38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns to Amendola for the Patriots (15-3), who'll play the Eagles in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

It's the eighth Super Bowl appearance for Brady and coach Bill Belichick, who have won five times -- including last year's 34-28 overtime rally against the Atlanta Falcons.

"It's pretty amazing. Just to be on a team that wins these kinds of games, it's just a great accomplishment," Brady said. "I'm just so proud of everyone on our team, we made so many great plays. Defense played so great when they needed to."

Blake Bortles and the Jaguars (12-7) led 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold against the defending champions. The NFL's second-ranked defense kept Brady and the Patriots at bay for most of the game, but lost linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on consecutive plays on New England's winning drive.

"It's a locker room obviously with a lot of pain," Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. "I'm sure they're hurting inside. I'm hurting. The players are hurting."

With New England trailing 20-17, Amendola returned a punt 20 yards to put the ball at the Jaguars 30. Brady hit James White for 15 yards, Amendola for 8 and then the quarterback ran up the middle for 2 yards and a first down.

On first-and-goal from the 5, White ran for a yard to set up the go-ahead score from Brady to Amendola.

Jacksonville -- looking to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history -- had one more shot, but Bortles' throw on fourth-and-15 to Dede Westbrook was knocked away by Stephon Gilmore.

"Guys are upset," Bortles said. "It's not what anybody expects -- contrary to popular belief. Those guys fully expected to win that game."

The Patriots ran out the clock, with Dion Lewis' 18-yard scamper with 90 seconds remaining sealing the victory. And they played most of the game without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left late in the first half and didn't return.

Brady's hand was the most-scrutinized body part in Boston since his ankle before the 2008 Super Bowl, and Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's right ankle tendon -- the bloody sock -- in the 2004 playoffs.

Brady hurt his right hand during practice earlier in the week.

"Of all the plays, my season wasn't going to end on a handoff in practice," Brady said.

"Mentally, it probably stressed him out a bit," Amendola said. "It's hard to throw a football with stitches in your thumb. Everybody knows how tough he is."

Some Patriots fans were worried, but not Belichick.

"He's a tough guy, we all know that," Belichick said. "But we're not talking about open heart surgery here."

Brady warmed up without a glove on his hand, and he came out throwing. He completed his first six passes for 57 yards to march the Patriots down the field. The drive stalled when Brady was sacked by Dante Fowler Jr., and New England settled for Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal.

A wide-open Marcedes Lewis gave the Jaguars a 7-3 lead 45 seconds into the second quarter with a 4-yard touchdown catch from Bortles .

Leonard Fournette gave Jacksonville a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter with a 4-yard TD run, hushing the crowd at Gillette Stadium.

The Jaguars made some big mistakes just before halftime. Bortles completed a 12-yard pass to Lewis on third-and-7 from the Patriots 44, but Jacksonville was called for delay of game.

That wiped out a first down, and Bortles was sacked by Adam Butler on the next play to force a punt. Jacksonville was called for six penalties that cost the Jaguars 98 yards, while New England was penalized just once.

With just over two minutes left before halftime, New England's offense took over and the fans chanted "Braa-dy! Braa-dy!"

And their quarterback delivered -- with some help from two big penalties.

On first-and-10 from the Patriots 40, Brady threw a long pass for Gronkowski, who was injured when he got popped by Barry Church. Church was called for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball at Jacksonville's 45.

"It was a tough call," Church said, "but you've got to go with what they call."

A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference on the next play. The 32-yard penalty gave the Patriots the ball at the Jaguars 13. After a 12-yard catch by Cooks, White ran it in from the 1 to make it 14-10.

Josh Lambo gave Jacksonville a 17-10 lead 4:37 into the third quarter with a 54-yard field goal. He added a 43-yarder 8 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a 10-point game.

But Brady & Co. were just getting started.

After Jacksonville went three-and-out following Jack's fumble recovery of Lewis, Brady and the Patriots offense came out with a sense of urgency.

They marched 85 yards on eight plays to cut it to a three-point deficit on Amendola's 9-yard TD catch with 8:44 left. Amendola had a 21-yard catch on third-and-18 from the Patriots 25 early in the drive.

"Big play in the game," Brady said. "Ended up being a huge drive for us."

Few flags
The Patriots' one penalty against the Jaguars is the fewest called on one team in a playoff game since the 2011 AFC championship -- when the Patriots were called for just one in a win over Baltimore.

Brady's bounce-back
Brady's passer rating during the first three quarters: 87.5. In the fourth quarter, it was 136.3.

Solid Jaguars
Bortles finished 23 of 36 for 293 yards and a touchdown in his first AFC title game. Fournette had 76 yards rushing on 24 carries.

Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

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Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

Greg Ward threw more touchdown passes in college than Carson Wentz and had a higher career passer rating than Nick Foles. 

These days, his job is catching passes, not throwing them. 

It’s quite a transition from big-time NCAA Division 1 quarterback to NFL wide receiver, but at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, the former Houston Cougar knows where his future is.

Ward spent all of last year on the Eagles’ practice squad, learning the nuances of a new position and figuring out how to think like a receiver instead of a quarterback. 

He looked surprisingly polished at wide out in training camp, caught nine passes for 63 yards in the preseason and then spent the season focusing on getting better.

“I still haven’t 100 percent gotten the position,” Ward said after a recent rookie camp practice. “I always feel like I can get better, always feel like I can learn something new, feel like there’ll always be something to improve on. 

“Last year was a big year for me. Just learning a new position, learning football period, learning from Alshon (Jeffery), Torrey (Smith) and Nelson (Agholor), it was a very important year for me.

“Just gathering every bit of information I could watching those guys practice and watching them in games and then learning how to apply what you’ve learned to your game.”

Ward never did get a chance to play, but he said he felt himself getting better as the year went along.

“Everybody wants to play,” said Ward, who led Houston to a Peach Bowl win over No. 9 Florida State in Atlanta at the end of his junior year. 

“You’re a competitor, that’s why we all do this. But I was humbled and thankful just to be on a Super Bowl team. Just to be in the NFL period. Some guys aren’t able to play football at all. I’m just grateful to be on a football team. 

“But this is not the end of my story. I am going to get out there and I am going to play.”

Ward was with the Eagles during their postseason run and he was there in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.

He used every moment, every day, as an opportunity to improve. Even if nobody could see it happening.

“The biggest thing I learned was just being patient, just being humble,” he said. “Our team last year, there was nobody that was selfish. Nobody who thought they were bigger than anybody else. I learned patience and the importance of doing extra. Getting extra work, studying more, watching more film. That’s what it takes to win a championship.”

The Eagles have quite a crowd at wide receiver, with Jeffery, Agholor and Mack Hollins back, Wallace and Markus Wheaton in the fold and guys like Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson and Rashard Davis all also in the mix.

But Ward doesn’t concern himself with the numbers.

“The next step for me is to separate myself,” he said. "As a competitor, especially coming from being undrafted, you have to separate yourself. You have to be different. 

“You have to catch whoever’s eye it is, head coach, position coach, catch everybody’s eyes. They have to see value in you. That’s where I am right now. Trying to separate myself.”

How long will it take?

“I’m leaving that up to God,” he said. “I know I’m putting in the hard work and I know one day it will pay off. I know that day will come.”

Jay Ajayi's publicist denies Eagles' RB trashed an L.A. mansion

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Jay Ajayi's publicist denies Eagles' RB trashed an L.A. mansion

Eagles running back Jay Ajayi is strongly denying accusations made in a lawsuit that he trashed a Los Angeles house after the Super Bowl (see story)

The lawsuit, as reported by TMZ earlier this week, accuses Ajayi of throwing three parties at the L.A. mansion he was renting even after the owner told him not to. Ajayi is being charged $25,000 by the owner. 

Shortly after the story broke on Monday, a representative for Ajayi claimed the lawsuit was bogus. 

Now, we have an even stronger detail from Ajayi’s camp. 

Ajayi’s publicist Melanie Wadden told the Miami Herald that Ajayi didn’t throw any parties and caused no damage to the property. 

Additionally, Wadden denied the home owner’s claim that Ajayi pushed him in a menacing manner after confronting him.

“Jay was not involved in any physical altercations,” she said. 

Ajayi’s publicist also told the Herald that Ajayi was a guest and not the renter and the owner wanted the group to pay cash instead of through Airbnb. 

"The entire group voluntarily left the property several days early — no security or police were ever involved or on-site," Wadden said. "They filed a complaint against the owner through Airbnb back in February that included screenshots of the owner asking for cash and trying to communicate outside of their platform [against Airbnb policy]."

Ajayi, who came to the Eagles in the middle of last season in a trade, has one year left on his current contract.