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Chris Hogan's statistical explosion helps key Pats win

Mere hours after Atlanta's Julio Jones lit up the Packers for 180 yards and two scores off nine grabs, his statistical explosion was matched -- exactly -- in New England.

Reminding us of their masterful ability to turn any player into a raging star at will, the Patriots leaned hard on wideout Chris Hogan to rip through Pittsburgh's secondary for a Jones-mirroring 180 yards and two scores off nine catches in Sunday's 36-17 cakewalk over the Steelers.

Laughably listed as questionable before the game, Hogan finished with more real estate than any Patriots pass-catcher in franchise history, snapping Deion Branch's 153 yards in a Divisional Round playoff loss to Denver in January 2006.

It's yet another example of how New England's movements in the breezy spring months so often come back to haunt the rest of the AFC. Coach Bill Belichick zeroed in on the undrafted Hogan last March as a restricted free agent of the Bills, wresting him away from Buffalo with a three-year, $12 million offer sheet.

Undoubtedly obsessed with the wideout's lacrosse background -- Hogan played in college, have you heard? -- Belichick reportedly was turned on by the receiver's football IQ.

Eight months later, the Patriots were treated to the finest outing of Hogan's brief career during a season that saw him finish with fewer catches than reserve running back James White. Bills fans, meanwhile, could only watch and wonder what might have been in Buffalo:

To be fair, we saw hints of Hogan's upped usage in a four-catch, 95-yard day against the Texans -- one of his five 90-plus-yard outings this season. On Sunday, Hogan's presence bloomed and gained power as the game wore on, with quarterback Tom Brady aiming the ball his way a team-leading 12 times next to 10 targets for Julian Edelman.

When a player goes for nearly 200 yards, the formula typically includes at least one long-yardage strike. Hogan, though, lit his box score on fire with a rash of chunk gains -- catches of 26, 22, 34, 24, 16 and 39 yards -- against a Steelers zone-coverage scheme that always seemed a step behind him:

Pittsburgh's embarrassed secondary would be wise to burn the game tape before coaches get a peek at what went down at Gillette. The second and third quarter, especially -- when the Steelers still had life -- became a circus as Hogan constantly found gaps and forest-like clearings between the defense.

On Sunday, Hogan was everything that Belichick believed he could be way, way back in March, when the rest of the NFL was asleep at the wheel.

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