By Danny Cox
By the end of the first quarter of Saturday’s AFC Divisional Round playoff game, the Tennessee Titans led 7-0 after a very well-organized 11-play, 95-yard drive led by Marcus Mariota. From that point on, the New England Patriots absolutely dominated the game on both sides of the ball and it was no contest. By the end of the day, the Pats won the game 35-14 and secured themselves a spot in next week’s AFC Championship.
The Patriots were down early but scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to take full control of the game, but Tom Brady still kept passing the ball. Brady was 35-of-53 passing for 337 yards and three touchdowns with not a single sack or turnover to be found. His primary target on the day was Danny Amendola, who had 112 yards on 11 receptions.
Rob Gronkowski finished with 81 yards and one touchdown on six receptions while Dion Lewis tore this game up. Not only did Lewis have 62 yards on the ground, but he also added 79 yards on nine receptions.
NFL fans have said for all eternity that “defense wins championships,” and if that is to be believed, the Patriots are on their way to another ring. Tennessee was held to just 267 yards of total offense while quarterback Marcus Mariota finished the day battered, bruised, and completely beaten.
Mariota ended up with 254 yards passing, but he was sacked eight times by New England with Geneo Grissom and rookie Deatrich Wise chalking up two each. The defense of the Patriots was simply relentless against the running game, as Derrick Henry could only amass 28 yards on the ground.
Special Teams: C+
If there was any part of the New England Patriots that didn’t absolutely obliterate the Titans, it was special teams, but they really didn’t need to. Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola had decent days in the return game, but nothing that blew things open.
Ryan Allen had a good day punting the ball as he had a long of 57 yards and pinned the Titans inside their own 20-yard line on two occasions. Stephen Gostkowski hit all five of his extra points, but he missed his lone field goal attempt. To be fair, it was a 53-yard attempt at the end of the first half with a good wind blowing through.
Things were kept quite simple for Bill Belichick as he stood on the sideline with his jacket bundled up over half of his face. He let Tom Brady and company do their thing on offense while the defense was ordered to antagonize and torment anyone in the offensive backfield of the Tennessee Titans. Sure, the offense racked up a lot of points, but it was the defense that took control of this game and earned the victory.
Up Next: There is only one more victory needed for the New England Patriots to return to the Super Bowl, but it will have to come in the AFC Championship over the Jacksonville Jaguars or Pittsburgh Steelers. Fortunately, New England already knows that they don’t have to travel anywhere for next week’s game as they have home-field advantage over anyone they may have to play. The road isn’t going to get any easier, but tonight’s victory shows they’re ready for anything.