Romo a wild card for Patriots defense

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Romo a wild card for Patriots defense

FOXBORO The Dallas Cowboys' much-maligned quarterback Tony Romo will remain a polarizing fixture in Big 'D' until he wins a Super Bowl or gets run out of town -- whichever comes first.

He has shown the ability to dominate a game, then completely disappear when he's most needed in another.

Love him or hate him, one thing most agree on -- Romo's play will have a major impact on the outcome of Sunday's game against New England.

While watching him on video certainly helps the Pats in their preparation, Romo's unpredictability on any given play only adds to the challenge.

"He's very mobile. No play is really ever dead with Romo," said New England cornerback Devin McCourty. "Even when guys get to him, he can escape."

But unlike most mobile quarterbacks, Romo has the ability to still hurt teams in the passing game even with a 300-plus pound defensive behemoth breathing down his neck.

"He has that ability, no matter what side of the field he's on, left or right," McCourty added. "He can turn his shoulders and throw the ball vertical. In the secondary, we have to stay on our guys and stay ready no matter what he does back there."

The decision on whether to scramble or stick tight in the pocket varies from one opponent to another, from one play to another.

"If they have a great front-four, you want to move around and help your protection by sliding the front, things like that," Romo said. "If you feel comfortable with the matchups you might stay in the pocket. It's just relative to the opponent. Each week we kind of do things differently. We're not the same team every week."

And Romo, good or bad, is definitely not the same quarterback.

In a 27-24 season-opening road loss to the New York Jets, Romo was at his worst when the game mattered most.

A week later, playing with a fractured rib, he rallied the Cowboys to a 27-24 overtime win over San Francisco.

The first two weeks of the Cowboys season provided further proof that when it comes to Romo, you never really know what you're going to get from one game to the next.

While Romo's scrambling ability certainly puts stress on the secondary, New England's defensive line could make their jobs a lot easier.

Shaun Ellis said the key for the Pats defensively will be to "execute the game plan, make it hard on him, put pressure on him and hopefully he'll make a mistake."

Ellis added, "he's different. He has his own style, the way he goes about his operation. We'll definitely have our hands full. They have great receivers, and are well balanced. And they have him throwing to them."

And when it comes to the up and down play, Romo will be the first to acknowledge that this season -- so far at least -- has been one with equal highs and lows for him and the Cowboys (2-2).

"For every game that's the other way, there's another one the other side," Romo said. "Everyone is good in this league. You have to minimize turnovers in key situations. We did that for two of the games and two of the games we didn't. That's really what it comes down to."

A record-setting day for Tom Brady

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A record-setting day for Tom Brady

There was no postseason clunker for Tom Brady Sunday. In fact, his performance Sunday was one of the best of his NFL record 24 playoff wins. 

PATRIOTS 33, STEELERS 9

Brady completed 32 of 42 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. His passing yard total is a Patriots postseason record. 

No. 12’s dominance helped Chris Hogan set a Patriots postseason record with 180 receiving yards on nine catches. Two of his grabs went for touchdowns, including a 39-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker in the second quarter. 

The previous Pats' postseason record was held by Deion Branch, who had 153 receiving yards in the Patriots' divisional round loss to the Broncos in the 2005 season.

Hogan’s performance ranks tied for 17th all-time in terms of receiving yards in a postseason game. The record is still safely held by former Bills receiver Eric Moulds, who had 240 receiving yards on Jan. 2, 1999 in a loss to the Dolphins. 

Hogan wasn’t the only Pats receiver to finish with gaudy numbers. Julian Edelman had eight catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. 

Game notes: Patriots 36, Steelers 17

Game notes: Patriots 36, Steelers 17

FOXBORO -- Notes from the Patriots' 36-17 victory over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game:

PATRIOTS 33, STEELERS 9

-- The Patriots are headed to their ninth Super Bowl, most in NFL history. The Cowboys, Broncos and Steelers have each been to eight.

-- The Patriots are now 9-4 in AFC Championship Games, including 6-1 in games played in Foxboro and 5-1 at Gillette Stadium.

-- The Patriots are now 3-0 against the Steelers in AFC Championship Games, and 4-1 overall against Pittsburgh in the playoffs.

-- The Patriots are 31-19 in postseason games, including 20-4 at home (3-1 at Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium, 17-3 at Gillette).

-- The Patriots won their 31st postseason game tonight, moving them past the 49ers into fourth place on the list of all-time playoff victories in NFL history. They trail the Cowboys (34), Steelers (34) and Packers (32).

 -- The Patriots' .620 winning percentage (31-19) in postseason games is now second-best in NFL history, behind the Ravens (15-8, .652). The Packers' loss today drops them to third (34-22, .607).

-- The Patriots have now won eight conference championships with Robert Kraft as owner, setting an NFL for most conference titles in the Super Bowl. Kraft had been tied with the Denver Broncos' Pat Bowler at seven.

-- Bill Belichick is now 25-10 in postseason games as a head coach and is in a tie with Bill Walsh (10-4) for third place on the NFL list of best postseason coaching winning percentage. Vince Lombardi (9-1, .900) is in first place and Tom Flores (8-3. .727) is second.

-- Belichick is advancing to his seventh Super Bowl as a head coach, most in NFL history. He had been tied with Don Shula at six. Belichick's Super Bowl record is 4-2, Shula's is 2-4.

-- Tom Brady had his ninth three-touchdown-pass postseason game, tying Joe Montana for the NFL record.

-- Stephen Gostkowski, who entered the game with 142 career postseason points, scored 12 points today and moved past Gary Anderson into third place on the NFL's all-time list of kicking points in the postseason. Adam Vinatieri (234) is first and David Akers (175) is second.