Bill Belichick's Patriots shook off a sluggish start coming out of the bye week to pull away for a 35-14 victory over the Titans Saturday night in a frigid Foxborough, advancing to the AFC Championship Game for the seventh straight January.
New England punted on its two first-quarter possessions and trailed 7-0 after one period, thanks to Corey Davis' first career touchdown. That's when New England's talented running backs took over facing Tennessee's defense that struggled against opposing passing backs all season.
The Patriots scored on three-straight possessions, including a pair of touchdowns for James White, to take a 21-7 lead into halftime. Brady completed 21 of 31 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns for a 107.7 passer rating in the first 30 minutes, with the Patriots converting an impressive six of nine third downs.
As Brady was picking up the pace on another big game against a Dick LeBeau-led defense, New England's own defenders were settling in to stifle Tennessee. After their first-quarter touchdown drive, the Titans had just three first downs over the next two quarters with five drives ending in a punt and one a turnover on downs.
When all was said and done, the heavily-favored Patriots cruised to the win.
"Our team has proven over the course of the year we can win important games against good teams. We did that tonight. That's why we're moving on," Brady said. "But you have to go right back to work."
"Look forward to playing next week," Belichick said.
Before turning the page to next Sunday afternoon's AFC title game at Gillette Stadium – against either the Steelers or the Jaguars – here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the blowout win over Tennessee.
Tom Brady – Brady earned his 26th career postseason victory – 10 more than Joe Montana's second-most all time – with a vintage passing performance. His final numbers included completing 35 of 53 passes for 337 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 102.5 rating. Brady had a pretty timing throw to Danny Amendola for first down. His touch, timing and reads were on pretty much all night long.
Dion Lewis/James White/Brandon Bolden – Even with Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead inactive, the depth of the Patriots backfield was on full display. Lewis has become the lead back and was just that against Tennessee, running a game-high 15 times for 62 yards while adding nine catches on 10 targets for 79 yards. White returned to action after missing the final couple regular season games with an ankle injury and scored the first two touchdowns of the night for New England. The first was technically a 5-yard pass on a Brady underhand flip on a jet sweep look, while the second came on 5-yard run to the left side. Even the veteran Bolden got into the fun late with a 2-yard touchdown run and a 20-yard fourth quarter scamper.
Danny Amendola – With the heightened importance of the playoffs, Amendola took on a much bigger role in the New England passing attack. The trusted veteran caught 11 of the 13 balls thrown his way for 112 yards, the first 100-yard game of this postseason career. The 11 receptions were three more than any game this season. If the veteran was under any sort of rep management or pitch count during the regular season, those restrictions appear to be gone.
Run defense – For the second straight game, New England's run defense was dominant against a power-based opposing rushing attack. A week after he went for 150-plus yards in Kansas City, the Patriots held Derrick Henry to just 28 yards on his 12 attempts (2.3 avg.) with a long of just 4 yards. Henry was stuffed for a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Patriots 46 in the second quarter. He never got thing going on that play, or really the entire night.
Controlled pass rush – Aside from one early 11-yard run to convert a third down, New England kept Mariota hemmed in most of the night and then piled up the sacks as the game wore on. New England finished with eight sacks for a new postseason franchise record. It was clear that ends like Trey Flowers were focused on keeping Mariota from getting to the outside and that let the interior guys get into the rush. The scheme, effort and execution up front were all on point.
Malcolm Butler –The former Pro Bowl corner was in coverage on both of Tennessee's touchdowns on the night. On the first Corey Davis got behind him and made a pretty one-handed catch for the score with the two hand fighting. Davis beat him again on a short out in the fading minutes. Rishard Matthews got behind Butler on another throw but couldn't make the grab. On a night when so many things were excellent, Butler wasn't.
Brandin Cooks –* *The lack of efficiency when Brady throws in Cooks' direction continues. The speedy outside receiver was targeted nine times leading to a mere three receptions for 32 yards. Cooks seemed to fail to extend for what looked like a catchable deep ball down the left sideline in the second quarter. Later, Brady threw to where he thought Cooks was making an in-cut in the back of the end zone only to see the receiver break to the outside. Even with 16-plus games playing together, Brady and Cooks continue to struggle to get on the same page and connect. On the plus side, Cooks did have a nice block on White's touchdown run.
Special teams penalties – After the slow start, New England rolled to the victory with pretty efficient, clean play on offense and defense. But on a night when the Patriots were called for just four penalties, there were three flags in the kicking game. Brandon King drew senseless personal foul call for head-butting a Titans player following a punt. Lawrence Guy drew a holding call on a punt return, as did Nicholas Grigsby.
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