After each New England Patriots game, we take a look at the handful of plays that, added together, resulted in one team celebrating victory while the other pondered what went wrong. Below are the 12 (or so) plays that defined the Patriots’ 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
James Harrison wrangles Derrick Henry
In addition to being really freaking impressive, this play also foreshadowed the struggles Henry would endure throughout the night. Harrison bull-rushed tight end Delanie Walker into Henry’s running lane and dragged the 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back to the ground using just one hand. That was Henry’s game in a nutshell, as he finished with just 28 yards on 12 carries and never broke a run longer than 4 yards.
Corey Davis beats Malcolm Butler
The Titans actually scored first in their blowout loss, with quarterback Marcus Mariota finding rookie wide receiver Corey Davis in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Butler had good coverage on the play, but Davis gained just enough separation at the top of his route to haul in a one-handed catch. The highlight-reel score gave the Titans a 7-0 lead they would hold until early in the second quarter.
Patriots’ backs get involved
After punting on their first two possessions, the Patriots began utilizing their running backs in the passing game, exploiting a glaring weakness in Tennessee’s defense. Their first big play came on the opening snap of the second quarter, with Tom Brady hitting Dion Lewis on a beautifully designed screen pass. Though the initial ruling of a 50-yard touchdown was reversed — replays revealed Lewis’ backside had hit the turf — he still picked up 31 yards on the catch-and-run.
Lewis again was one of the Patriots’ top offensive performers, finishing with 141 yards from scrimmage on 24 touches.
A 14-yard completion to Lewis later in the drive set up New England’s first touchdown, with running back James White taking a jet sweep shovel pass 5 yards to paydirt.
Stephon Gilmore’s lockdown defense
Gilmore ended Tennessee’s drive after White’s score by forcing an incompletion to Davis on third down. The Patriots cornerback was flawless all night, allowing zero catches on four targets and breaking up two passes in his postseason debut.
James White, touchdown machine
The Patriots struck quickly after Gilmore forced a Titans punt, driving 48 yards in six plays to take a lead they would not relinquish. White did the honors again, this time taking a handoff and breaking a tackle in the backfield before scampering in for a 6-yard score.
White, one of the heroes of Super Bowl LI, has scored five touchdowns in his last two playoff games.
Eric Rowe’s third-down tackle
Another great play by a Patriots cornerback forced the Titans into another punting situation, with Rowe wrapping up Taywan Taylor short of the line to gain on third-and-7. Tennessee tried to pick on Rowe, New England’s third corner, throughout the game, but he was up to the challenge, allowing just 47 receiving yards on 10 targets and making several key open-field tackles.
One very costly penalty
With their offense stuck in neutral, the Titans’ defense forced its first three-and-out of the game. Ryan Allen came out to punt from near his own goal line, and a false start on Geneo Grissom appeared to back the Patriots up even further. But in a stunning reversal that infuriated Titans fans, the officials switched their call, instead penalizing Tennessee’s Brynden Trawick for drawing Grissom offsides.
Given new life, the Patriots made the Titans pay for their mistake, embarking on a 16-play, 95-yard touchdown drive — helped along by two additional Tennessee penalties — that capped a run of 21 New England points in less than 12 minutes.
Chris Hogan makes a comeback
Hogan didn’t make much of an impact in his first game back from a shoulder injury, but he capped that long scoring drive with a 4-yard touchdown catch from Brady. It was the wideout’s first touchdown catch since Week 5 and his only reception of the game.
Hogan also knocked linebacker Wesley Woodyard off his feet with a thunderous open-field block.
Henry stonewalled on fourth-and-1
The low point of Henry’s forgettable performance came when he was dropped for a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-1, prompting baffled CBS analyst Tony Romo to exclaim, “What are they doing?!”
Sack after sack after sack after …
The Patriots’ pass rush was downright relentless in the second half. Seven of New England’s franchise-playoff-record eight sacks came after halftime, and the Pats brought Mariota down at least once on each of Tennessee’s first four possessions of the third quarter.
Adam Butler, Ricky Jean Francois, Marquis Flowers and Trey Flowers all got to the Titans QB during a dominant third frame for New England’s defense, with Jean Francois and Marquis Flowers doing so on back-to-back plays. Tennessee recorded minus-15 yards of total offense in the third quarter.
Deatrich Wise also tallied one sack in the first quarter and another in the fourth, while Geneo Grissom added two of his own in garbage time.
The Patriots fourth touchdown of the night came from an unlikely source: Patriots running back Branden Bolden, who hadn’t scored in a game since 2015 and hadn’t rushed for a touchdown since 2014. The seldom-used running back finished with 27 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
With Hogan and Brandin Cooks both relatively quiet, Danny Amendola enjoyed one of the best games of his Patriots career, catching 11 passes on 13 targets for 112 yards in the win. It was the first time the reliable veteran receiver had surpassed the 100-yard mark in a playoff game, and he was at his best in clutch situations.
Five of his 11 catches extended drives on third down, including this miraculous floater from Brady on third-and-10 that set up New England’s final touchdown:
Rob Gronkowski — who after the game coined the nickname Danny “Playoff” Amendola — finished off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown reception, capping a six-catch, 81-yard effort for the All-Pro tight end.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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