FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — A year ago, he engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
What kind of challenge, then, would a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit be for Tom Brady?
The ageless New England Patriots quarterback did it again on Sunday in the AFC championship game.
Brady and receiver Danny Amendola connected for two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Patriots earned a return trip to the Super Bowl with a 24-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots will play the winner of Sunday’s NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Brady, playing with an injured right hand, completed 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards as the Patriots earned their 10th Super Bowl berth.
Brady, 40, has won five Super Bowls — he’s been the Super Bowl MVP four times — including last year’s historic comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons, when he brought the Patriots back from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit.
For most of the week, ever since a New England player inadvertently ran into Brady and ripped a gash on his right hand on Wednesday, the region — and the national media — was transfixed on whether Brady would play with a glove to protect the stitches on his throwing hand.
He did not practice Thursday and was limited Friday, but his red Under Armour gloves were omnipresent in video and photographs from the practice field and a news conference, where Brady declined to discuss the condition of his hand.
Thumbs up or thumbs down for Sunday, he was asked.
“We’ll see,” Brady said.
When he arrived at the stadium early Sunday, cameras showed him with his hands in the pocket of his parka, his bag slung over his left shoulder. The images set off another round of feverish speculation because Brady typically enters the stadium carrying his bag in his right hand.
With a phalanx of photographers and camera operators awaiting his entrance onto the field, he came out for warmups with no glove on his right hand, only some black tape apparently covering the stitches.
The Jaguars, who came into the NFL as an expansion team in 1995, were trying to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time.
But penalties hurt them, and allowed Brady to work his magic.
The Jaguars overcame an early 3-0 deficit with a Blake Bortles touchdown pass to veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis and a touchdown run by running back Leonard Fournette, and led 14-10 at halftime.
They increased the lead to seven with Josh Lambo’s 54-yard field goal on the first possession of the second half, and then pushed the margin to 10 points with Lambo’s 43-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
A potential turning point came on the ensuing possession when Brady faked a hand-off and then threw a pass to his right to Amendola. The receiver took a few steps and then threw a pass across the field to running back Dion Lewis, who ran for 20 yards before Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack stripped the ball for a fumble.
But the Jaguars went three and out, giving Brady another chance.
He drove them 85 yards in eight plays, connecting with receiver Phillip Dorsett on a flea-flicker for 31 yards and Amendola for a nine-yard touchdown that pulled the Patriots to within three points.
With rocker Jon Bon Jovi seated in a stadium suite, “Living on a Prayer” blasted on the stadium speakers, with the crowd roaring and singing along.
The Patriots forced the Jaguars to punt on the ensuing possession, putting Brady in position to engineer a tying or go-ahead scoring drive.
But after a pass-interference penalty against Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Brady threw incomplete passes on three consecutive plays and the Patriots had to punt.
But the Patriots’ defense forced another punt and Amendola returned it to the Jaguars’ 30-yard line.
Brady’s pass to running back James White netted 15 yards, and he found Amendola for eight yards. Brady picked up a first down with a two-yard sneak and, two plays later, fired a pass to Amendola in the back of the end zone for a 24-20 lead.
The Jaguars advanced the ball to the Patriots’ 43, but Bortles’ pass on a fourth and 14 was broken up by cornerback Stephon Gilmore with 1:47 left.
Amendola caught seven passes for 84 yards, and also completed a 20-yard pass.
Bortles completed 26 of 36 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown.
Brady looked sharp from the outset.
On the first play, he passed to Dion Lewis. On the next play, he threaded a laser to Brandin Cooks for 31 yards. His fourth down completion to Amendola for 20 yards gave the Patriots a first down at the Jaguars’ 10-yard line.
But the Jaguars stuffed Lewis after he caught two short passes and Dante Fowler sacked Brady, forcing the Patriots to settle for Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal.
Late in the first quarter, the Jaguars started to get their offense going.
Bortles kept it simple, completing a play-action pass to running back Corey Grant and also finding receivers Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole. Grant took another short pass 24 yards before Bortles connected with Marcedes Lewis for a short touchdown pass that gave the Jaguars a 7-3 lead.
The Jaguars forced the Patriots to go three and out and then scored again.
This time, Bortles coolly led them on a 10-play, 77-yard drive.
It started, again, with a pass to Grant, who turned a short pass into a 15-yard gain. Bortles connected with Allen Hurns twice as the Jaguars moved to the Patriots’ 32.
From there, Fournette took over. He kept alive the drive with two third-down runs. T.J. Yeldon ran for 12 yards before Fournette gave the Jaguars a double-digit lead with a short touchdown run.
But the Jaguars let the Patriots come back by committing penalties.
First, a delay-of-game penalty — after a Jaguars’ timeout — nullified an apparent Bortles completion for a first down. The Patriots sacked Bortles on the next play to force a punt that gave Brady the ball with slightly more than two minutes left in the first half.
Several Brady completions moved the ball to the Patriots’ 40, before Brady passed downfield to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Jaguars safety Barry Church plowed into Gronkowski and was called for unnecessary roughness. Gronkowski was placed in concussion protocol and did not return.
On the next play, Brady lofted a long pass down the left sideline. Cornerback A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference against Cooks, giving the Patriots a first down at the 13. Brady found Cooks for 12 yards, and James White ran the ball across the goal line to pull the Patriots to within 14-10.