Roger Goodell kept Tom Brady off the field for the first four games of the season.
Nothing was keeping Brady from finishing it, and giving himself a chance to accept another trophy from the NFL commissioner in two weeks.
The Patriots quarterback was clinical as his team crushed the Steelers 36-17, setting up a Super Bowl LI showdown with the Falcons in Houston two weeks from today.
Brady was 34-of-42 passing for 384 yards and three scores. It was his ninth career three-touchdown performance in the postseason, tying Joe Montana for the most in that category. And that underscores the kind of historic company he’s keeping, as he leads the Patriots to their ninth Super Bowl appearance.
It also sets the stage for plenty of talk about the four-game Deflategate suspension that delayed the start of his season, but the Patriots went 3-1 during that stretch with the kind of all-hands effort as they displayed Sunday night.
Offensively, wide receiver Chris Hogan was brilliant, with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
But the league’s best scoring defense also kept the Steelers from doing much of anything, making plays at critical junctures and forcing a pair of turnovers.
The Steelers were fairly helpless once running back Le’Veon Bell left with a groin injury early. He tried coming back for a play, but it wasn’t working, and without him, neither did their offense. With Bell offering just 20 yards on six carries, the rest of the Patriots’ attention went to slowing Antonio Brown, who will not be live-streaming any celebrations in the locker room tonight.
Brown finished with seven catches for 77 yards (cosmetic yards late padded that number), and the rest of the Steelers couldn’t overcome the attention.
Which means Brady and the Patriots will get plenty for the next two weeks, as they chase a fifth title.