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While remarkable, no one should be surprised the New England Patriots are heading to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
What is strange is James Harrison will be joining the Patriots in their quest to win a sixth Super Bowl title since the 2001 season. While it might seem remarkable how quickly things have evolved over the last month for the one-time Patriot hunter, the goal always remains the same for Harrison no matter whose colors he’s wearing.
“It feels good,” Harrison told NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones after the Patriots’ 24-20 victory over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. “That’s the goal every year — to go to the Super Bowl and win it. We’re one step away.”
Harrison made an impact against the Jaguars, particularly against the running game. He recorded three tackles and continued to prove he can still be a worthwhile contributor even at age 39. Harrison said the team got better against the Jaguars as the game progressed.
“I don’t think we [played] too well in the first half,” Harrison said. “We did a better job in the second half. The offense came alive, the defense came alive and we were able to work together and get it done.”
As for Brady, Harrison isn’t surprised that the man who he has made a career out of chasing during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers overcame a hand injury to wreak havoc on the Jaguars.
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“You expect that,” Harrison said. “I mean, he hasn’t missed a game with any sort of injury except for the ACL when he missed a season. That’s what you expect from him.”
If Brady and Harrison continue to live up to their reputations as game-changers in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, the veteran linebacker could add a third Super Bowl ring to his impressive list of accomplishments.
The Harrison boys, James (10) and Henry (8), wedged themselves into their dad’s locker at Gillette Stadium about an hour after the AFC championship game on Sunday evening. They slugged energy drinks, donned stiff-brimmed AFC champions hats and chatted up New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. They examined their dad’s gear, holding up Under Armour cleats the size of their forearms and soaked in the scene around him.
When Harrison’s locker neighbor, Johnson Bademosi, leaned in and asked where they were going, the enthusiastic response came immediately: “SUPER BOWL!”
Harrison, 39, clearly and deliberately relished the moment after the Patriots completed their 24-20 comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He put on his championship shirt before taking a shower to take a professional picture with his boys and the AFC championship trophy. He later did an interview with both of them on his lap, a trio of halogen grins lighting up the locker room.
In less than a month after being removed from the mothballs in Pittsburgh, Harrison has emerged as the fulcrum of this Patriots defense. He showed that again Sunday, setting the edge on the run defense and making a pair of critical fourth-quarter pass rushes to help the Patriots complete their improbable comeback.
“It feels good,” he said. “Like I said before, this is all part of God’s plan.”
Whether it’s spiritual, cosmic or karmic, the manner in which the Patriots have cobbled together victories have taken on an almost predictable script. If filling in the Mad Libs of the quintessential Patriots comeback, there were plenty of easy answers to fill in on Sunday.
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There was drama to overcome:
Overarching concern? Tom Brady’s injury.
Traumatic injury to overcome? Rob Gronkowski’s concussion.
Huge lead by an opponent? The Jaguars led by 10 in the fourth quarter.
There were cunning plot twists:
Opponent blunder inviting them back in game? Delay of game penalty that negated a first-down throw and helped allow the Patriots to score at the end of the first half.
Obscure hero? Phillip Dorsett catching a high-degree-of-difficulty 31-yard catch to key a touchdown drive.
Maligned player with a big moment? Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore’s circus deflection to essentially seal the game.
Harrison’s role in the Patriots script is as well-worn as your favorite Do Your Job hoodie. He came in as veteran player overlooked in his old job who came here to embrace his role and thrive. The Patriots have become a depot for veterans seeking championships, as players like Darrelle Revis, Chris Long, Brandon Browner and Martellus Bennett have swung through in recent seasons and been able to claim a Super Bowl. Others have stopped here for productive late-career pit stops when others wondered how much they had in the tank – Junior Seau, Randy Moss and LeGarrette Blount.
Few have adopted the Patriot Way of unselfishness and role-playing as quickly as Harrison. One week after giving some engaging comments following the Tennessee Titans game where he claimed he’d be watching the Cartoon Network instead of his former team’s playoff game, he even managed to set a record for Patriots cliches in one interview on Sunday night. “It is what it is,” he said when asked a question about the mentality of coming from behind. “If you don’t go out there and play and do your job, then you’re going to lose the game.” That’s the Bill Belichick rhetoric of a 10-year Patriots veteran.
Harrison did his job Sunday. With just over two minutes remaining, he rushed in from the edge and helped force a Blake Bortles fumble when he and linebacker Kyle Van Noy sandwiched the Jacksonville quarterback. That turned second-and-10 into third-and-19 and set the stage for Gilmore breaking up the Bortles pass two plays later.