Monday, January 23, 2017

Unheralded WR Hogan the hero for Patriots

January 22, 2017
Chris Hogan #15 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against Sean Davis #28 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Chris Hogan #15 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against Sean Davis #28 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Steelers' season was interrupted Sunday night, like their sleep early that morning, by a sudden sound.
Unlike the fire drill that awoke the team at their Boston Logan Airport Hilton hotel, this was no false alarm.
This was the roar of New England Patriots fans at Gillette Stadium, cheers that reached a crescendo on Chris Hogan's 34-yard scoring pass from Tom Brady in the second quarter.
Hogan had two 100-yard receiving games in his four-year career and never before had a multiple-touchdown game. He achieved both by halftime, with seven catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
“It'll be something that I'll definitely remember for the rest of my career,” Hogan said, “and probably for the rest of my life.”
One the Steelers won't forget.
Brady was brilliant, as usual, but Hogan was the hero as the Patriots clinched the AFC championship in a 36-17 victory over the Steelers for their ninth Super Bowl appearance.
Hogan made the play that ended the Steelers' bid for a seventh Super Bowl title, the play that continued their serving second fiddle to Bill Belichick, Brady and the Patriots since losing the 2002 AFC title game.
There will be no Stairway to Seven. Not this season, anyway.
The Steelers had an ominous start to the day. From the town and team that brought you Spygate and Deflategate came the latest caper: Alarmgate. A 25-year-old Patriots fan pulled the fire alarm at 3 a.m. Sunday at the Steelers' team hotel.
That was the first time the Steelers were caught sleeping Sunday in New England.
It wouldn't be the last.
The Patriots were making their 11th AFC championship game appearance since 2002 and sixth straight. Two of those came at the expense of the Steelers, one marking the beginning of the Brady era in New England, the other beginning of the Big Ben era in Pittsburgh.
Someday, both of their busts will be enshrined in Canton. On this day, one was Super Bowl-bound, the other Super-Bowl bust. With pinpoint accuracy, Brady showed why he owns a 7-2 record against the Steelers in the regular season, now 3-0 in the postseason and 5-0 at home.
Brady, who started this season serving a four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate, completed 32 of 42 for 384 yards, with three touchdowns and no picks, for his NFL-record 11th career 300-yard postseason game.
What the Steelers missed, as they have all season, was a secondary receiver to take the pressure off Antonio Brown.
That role was supposed to belong to Martavis Bryant before his season-long suspension of the league's substance-abuse policy, or even tight end Ladarius Green before ankle surgery and a concussion.
Both Sammie Coates, who dropped a deep third-and-1 pass in the first quarter, and Cobi Hamilton, who couldn't corral one in the end zone in the second quarter, blew their chances.
“It's a little frustrating because we talk about (how) sometimes it's just one play here, one play there,” Roethlisberger said. “We didn't make those plays. Was it too big? What it was, I don't know. But we need to make every single play in a game like this against an opponent like this.”
Tight end Jesse James came closest to making one of those plays late in the second quarter, but a video review ruled that he was down at the Patriots 1. After two negative rushing plays and an incomplete pass, the Steelers settled for a field goal.
That isn't enough against Brady, even though he was missing his favorite target in injured tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Of course, the Patriots can convert any chump into a 100-yard receiver, or so it seems. Julian Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State. Hogan played lacrosse at Penn State.
“He plays with such a high effort that he makes every corner expend a lot of energy on every play,” Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan said of Hogan. “When you cover a guy, you have to match that passion. If you don't, he'll make you look bad.”
Hogan got wide open in setting a Patriots postseason record for receiving yards in a game, with 180, on nine catches. His first touchdown, a 16-yarder, made it 10-0. His second touchdown gave the Patriots a 17-6 lead.
“We definitely weren't expecting him to have the game that he had,” Steelers cornerback Artie Burns Jr. said. “He just slipped behind coverages.”
Of all the statistics, this is the most alarming: The Patriots were 103-1 when leading by eight points at any time in a game since 2001 at Gillette Stadium.
You can't spot the Patriots that kind of lead at home.
Behind Brady and Hogan, this one was safe and sound.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.comor via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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