AFC Championship Game 2018 Final Score, Highlights from Jaguars vs. PatriotsJanuary 22, 2018
In a spectacular finish, the New England Patriots concluded the AFC Championship Game with 14 unanswered points and a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback Tom Brady rose to the occasion in the clutch to lead his team back to the Super Bowl.
Jacksonville put New England to the ultimate test with highlight plays on both sides of the ball, but the defending champions did what they do better than any NFL team when trailing in the fourth quarter, per ESPN Stats & Info:
In addition, the Patriots comeback occurred without Brady's top receiving option tight end Rob Gronkowski, who went into concussion protocol.
Let's take a look at how the action unfolded with key plays for both teams in the matchup.
Leonard Fournette Puts Jaguars Up 14-3
The Jaguars didn't come into the contest playing conservatively in the franchise's biggest game in nearly two decades. Quarterback Blake Bortles completed short passes to chip away at the Patriots defense. Running back Corey Grant flashed with three catches for 59 yards in the first half.
Ball-carrier Leonard Fournette capped the Jaguars' third drive with a four-yard touchdown run, which put early pressure on the Patriots.
Jacksonville's early jump resembled its start against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. The AFC South champions looked confident and dominant over the team favored to win.
Blake Bortles' Flea-Flicker
Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett went deep into the playbook with a flea-flicker to take the heat off Bortles in the pocket. The play call didn't result in a touchdown, but the creativity showed confidence in this unit's ability to execute against an elite team.
Furthermore, Bortles continued to show his ability to extend plays and move in the pocket. Brady answered with two completed passes on flea-flickers in the fourth quarter—one resulted in a fumble, which we'll take a look at next.
Myles Jack Rips the Ball Away from Dion Lewis
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also went deep into the playbook to catch the opposing defense off guard. Brady tossed a lateral pass to Amendola, who threw to running back Dion Lewis for a big gain, but he lost his first fumble of the year on a great defensive play, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Second-year linebacker Myles Jack pried the football out of Lewis' clutches to flip the field. He logged the first takeaway of the game, and the Jaguars seemed well on their way to claiming an AFC title.
Tom Brady to Danny Amendola Touchdown Part 1
Of course, New England wouldn't go down without a fight to the finish. The pregame talk about Brady's hand faded long before the fourth quarter and became an afterthought after he lit up the opposing defense down the stretch.
The 40-year-old signal-caller hit Amendola, who came out of the slot, in stride for a touchdown to cut the lead to four. He became the most reliable receiver on the field after Gronkowski left with a concussion.
At this point, those who despise the Patriots' late-game heroics rolled their eyes and mumbled, "here we go again."
Tom Brady to Danny Amendola Touchdown Part 2
Amendola, who should carry the nickname mini-Gronkowski after his latest performance, came down with a difficult touchdown grab. He definitely tapped two feet in bounds with control of the football on the play.
Brady put his trust in the veteran receiver, who logged two touchdown receptions for the entire season. Amendola came up with a pair of scores in critical moments late in the contest.
The second end-zone grab completed the comeback with 2:48 left in the game. The Patriots' passing offense cut through the league's No. 1 pass defense. No one questioned the condition of Brady's hand or the team's camaraderie.
New England played its best football in the final quarter and advanced to Super Bowl LII with another memorable display on the field. It's the franchise's 10th appearance in the title game.