LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans 35-14 Saturday to move within one win of a return to the NFL’s championship showcase.
But the Atlanta Falcons, the team the Patriots stunned in last season’s Super Bowl, won’t get a shot at redemption after falling 15-10 to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Another milestone night for superstar quarterback Tom Brady saw the Patriots roll past the Titans and into their seventh straight American Football Conference title game.
They will face either the Jacksonville Jaguars or Pittsburgh Steelers for a berth in the February 4 Super Bowl.
In frigid temperatures at the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the Titans seized a 7-0 lead.
But the Patriots responded with a vengeance, with three second-quarter touchdowns giving them a 21-7 halftime lead that they stretched to 35-7 before the Titans tacked on another touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Brady completed 35 of 53 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns as he set an NFL record with his 10th career post-season game with three TD passes.
Danny Amendola posted his first career 100-yard receiving game, catching 11 passes for 112 yards.
James White scored two touchdowns and Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski scored one apiece while the Patriots defence sacked Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota eight times.
The Patriots had been riled in the run-up to the contest by a bombshell ESPN report that painted a picture of internal strife and a rift between Brady, coach Bill Belichick and billionaire owner Robert Kraft.
But Brady insisted that didn’t alter his approach – or his satisfaction in the win.
“I just try to be consistent, show up and do the best I can do every week for the team, regardless of whether I’m the worst quarterback in the league or the best quarterback in the league or somewhere in between,” he said.
“My job is to do the best I can do for us every week. It was a good team win today – and we’re going to need another one next week.”
In Philadelphia, the Eagles didn’t mind admitting they were motivated by pundits who branded them underdogs against the Falcons despite Philadelphia’s number one seed in the National Football Conference.
“Keep calling us underdogs, man, keep doing it,” defensive end Chris Long crowed. “We love it! Keep it up! We stink!”
Expectations for the Eagles dipped when quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a season ending knee injury on December 10.
Nick Foles – who has struggled to convince since replacing Wentz – finished the game with 246 passing yards, making 23 of 30 attempts.
Foles overcame a slow start to set up a touchdown for LeGarrette Blount from one yard on a brave fourth down play in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 6-3 lead.
Rookie kicker Jake Elliott booted three field goals as the Eagles advanced to a meeting with either the Minnesota Vikings or the New Orleans Saints.
The Falcons had a late chance but Matt Ryan’s pass to Julio Jones fell incomplete in the end zone on fourth and goal from the two-yard line with 58 seconds left to play.