When the Patriots ran:
Once again the production on the ground was nothing special: 27 carries for just 101 yards and a 3.7-yard average. But the Patriots were able to rush for a pair of touchdowns (really three although James White's first TD was technically a pass) and Dion Lewis was effective enough to keep things moving in the right direction. Lewis was once again the lead dog and he finished with 15 carries for 62 yards, good for a 4.1-yard average. Nothing fancy but he generally moved the pile forward and created favorable down-and-distance situations. He also did a great job of avoiding would-be tacklers in the backfield, running mostly to the left side behind Nate Solder and Joe Thuney. Fifteen of New England's 25 runs (excluding kneel downs) were efficient, which made life easier on Tom Brady and the offense. Tennessee entered the game as one of the better run defenses in football and it showed, but the Patriots ability to continue to grind out yards on the ground, albeit in small chunks, was relevant.
When the Patriots passed:
Here's where the modest ground production came into play – the Patriots converted 11 of 17 third downs, and that includes a pair of meaningless failures to close out the game. The reason Brady was able to be so effective when it mattered most was the ground game did just enough to create favorable situations. Brady completed 35 of 53 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, another surgeon-like effort from the game's greatest postseason quarterback ever. Since it's the playoffs it was time for Danny Amendola to assume a full-time role out of the slot and as usual he delivered, catching 11 of the 13 balls thrown his way for 112 yards to give him the first 100-yard receiving game of his playoff career. Lewis also was a huge part of the passing game, grabbing nine of 10 passes for 79 yards. Those two gave the Titans fits as their linebackers struggled to tackle in space all night. Lewis had a 31-yard pickup on a perfectly-executed screen that set up the first touchdown. White (three catches, 11 yards) caught and ran for scores as well, while Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 81 yards) also had a TD. Chris Hogan was quiet in his return but made the most of his one catch, which went for a 4-yard touchdown on third-and-goal.
When the Titans ran:
The Patriots run defense has been maligned all season long but the last two games may be a sign of better things to come. After shutting down the Jets Bilal Powell in the finale, the front seven was even better against Tennessee's Derrick Henry. Henry was stifled throughout, picking up 28 yards on 12 carries for a paltry 2.3-yard average. Henry was shut down so thoroughly that Tennessee didn't even attempt to run him in the second half. The Titans faced a fourth-and-one from the Patriots 46 in the waning seconds of the first half, and Henry was dropped for a 5-yard loss. He carried just once for 4 yards in the second half as a result. Marcus Mariota provided the bulk of the Titans rushing yards, racking up 37 of the 65 yards Tennessee managed. Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Ricky Jean Francois played together at times on the inside and that trio was stout all game long. It was a dominant effort between the tackles for the Patriots front seven.
When the Titans passed:
This performance wasn't perfect, but the Patriots will take these results anytime. First, the front not only did a good job of limiting Mariota's running opportunities, they also were able to drop the elusive Titans quarterback eight times. Deatrich Wise and Geneo Grissom each recorded a pair of sacks while Trey Flowers, Marquis Flowers, Adam Butler and Jean Francois also got in on the action. Despite the gaudy numbers, it was the secondary that made most of that possible. Stephon Gilmore had a great night in coverage, as did Eric Rowe. Malcolm Butler had some occasional problems with Corey Davis, who caught a pair of touchdowns, but otherwise it was a solid night for the defense. Mariota completed 22 of 37 passes for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns but he was unable to get anything going in the middle two quarters and that's when the Patriots took control, outscoring Tennessee 28-0 in quarters two and three.
This wasn't a big problem as neither side did much in the return game but the Patriots had some uncharacteristic sloppiness on special teams and that's why Tennessee gets the edge. New England had three penalties in the kicking game: two holding calls and a personal foul. Amendola did a good job handling Brett Kern's punts but wasn't able to muster much yardage on his returns. Same was true of Tennessee's Adoree' Jackson, although he did manage to take all four of Stephen Gostkowski's non-touchback kickoffs back outside the 20, which hasn't happened often this season. Gostkowski also hooked a 53-yard field goal attempt to the left to close the first half. Nothing too noteworthy in the kicking game either way but the Patriots miscues could have been more costly in a tight game.