Chris Hogan plays big role in helping Patriots reach Super Bowl

New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan celebrates after making a reception during the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game Sunday.
(Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)
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The New England Patriots make a habit of picking up free agents that help them get to the Super Bowl.

Receiver Chris Hogan is the latest.

Hogan caught a career-high nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns Sunday night, helping the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl with a 36-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium.

Hogan, 28, scored on a 16-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the first quarter and on a 34-yard pass from Brady off a flea-flicker play in the second quarter.


His 180 yards receiving was the most in Patriots’ postseason history, breaking the record of 153 set by Deion Branch against Denver in 2006.

“I’m just happy to take advantage of this opportunity, you know,” Hogan said, “to be a part of this team.”

Hogan played in college at Monmouth and spent the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills.

“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “But I’ve worked really had to get to this point and I just couldn’t be happier that I get to be a part of this team, this whole thing.”

Hogan caught 38 passes for 680 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season, and had four catches for 95 yards last week against Houston.

“He’s been incredible,” Brady said. “He’s made big plays for us all season. He made big plays in the biggest game of the year for us.”


Bell is injured

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who had rushed for 167 yards and 170 yards in two playoff games, said he suffered a groin injury on the team’s second play.

Bell carried only six times for 20 yards and sat out nearly all of the game. DeAngelo Williams replaced him and rushed for 34 yards and a touchdown in 14 carries and caught seven passes for 51 yards.

“It just got progressively worse,” Bell said. “I had no burst anymore. I felt like I was holding the team back. ... This is a game I wanted to play in, this is a game I was looking forward to.”

Coach Mike Tomlin said the loss of Bell changed strategy.

“No question,” Tomlin said. “Injuries are part of the game. We didn’t do a good enough job or a quick enough job adapting to the circumstance.”

Of Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said the Steelers “missed not having him out there.”


Roethlisberger completed 31 of 47 passes for 314 yards and a late touchdown, with an interception.

It’s alarming

The Steelers got an unwelcome early-morning wakeup call at their hotel when a man pulled a fire alarm at 3:40 a.m.

A police spokesman told the Associated Press that East Boston resident Dennis Harrison, 25, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and pulling a false alarm.

Asked whether the prank affected the Steelers, Roethlisberger said, “Nah.”

Former NFL players tweeted that the same thing happened to them during their visits to New England.


Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein