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Patriots rally past Jaguars to return to Super Bowl

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Give ’em a hand: Tom Brady and the Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl.

Brady shook off a right (throwing) hand injury and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 left, rallying the Patriots to a 24-20 comeback victory over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Brady, wearing a black bandage on the hand after needing 12 stitches beneath the thumb to close a cut that happened on a play during practice Wednesday, showed no signs of being hampered.

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

"I’ve had a lot worse," said Brady, who reportedly had a ligament strain in the thumb as well. "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 (Sunday) we did just enough to win."

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Brady finished 26-of-38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns to Amendola in the fourth quarter. It will be 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 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 led 20-10 early in the fourth but couldn’t hold. 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."

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With New England trailing 20-17, Amendola returned a punt 20 yards to put the ball at the Jaguars’ 30-yard line. Brady hit James White for 15 yards and Amendola for 8, then 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.

Jacksonville — looking to reach the Super Bowl for the first time — 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 left sealing the victory. And they played most of the game without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left late in the first half after a helmet-to-helmet hit with Jacksonville’s Barry Church while making a catch 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 in the 2004 playoffs.

"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."

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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, 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 former Gator Dante Fowler Jr., and New England settled for Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal.

An 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 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. New England was penalized just once.

The Patriots capitalized by driving for a score to make it 14-10 at the half.

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 eight seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a 10-point game.

But with Brady leading the way, another Patriots postseason comeback seemed a matter of time.

"Close, man. We were almost there," Jack said. "On the one hand, we could have won the game. But on the other, Tom Brady is Tom Brady. We got Tom Bradyed again."

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Patriots rally past Jaguars to return to Super Bowl