FOXBORO, Mass. — Here are some notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 35-14 divisional-round beatdown of the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium:
— The Patriots’ defense flat-out dominated the Titans, who had rallied from 18 points down to upset the Kansas City Chiefs one week earlier.
Outside of one 95-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter that opened the scoring and an 80-yard scoring march in garbage time, the Titans managed a net total of just 62 yards. They gained negative yardage on four of their 10 possessions and tallied a total of minus-15 yards in the third quarter.
Running back Derrick Henry, who trampled the Chiefs for 156 rushing yards, was a total non-factor for Tennessee. He finished with 28 yards on 12 carries and didn’t have a single rush of more than 4 yards. In fact, he was less productive than seldom-used Patriots running back Brandon Bolden, who rushed four times for 27 yards and a touchdown in the blowout win.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota ran for two first downs on Tennessee’s first touchdown drive but quickly was rendered ineffective by a dominant Patriots pass rush that set a franchise postseason record with eight sacks.
“We knew this team wanted to establish the run and wanted to have their quarterback make plays, whether it was with his feet to buy time to throw or him just running,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said after the game. “We knew we had to take care of him, keep him in the pocket, and we did a really good job of keeping him in the pocket. A couple of times, he really had nowhere to go, and we forced him to take the sack.”
— Marquis Flowers, who was responsible for one of those eight sacks, has been a revelation at linebacker for the Patriots.
After not recording a single sack in his first 46 NFL games, Flowers now has 4 1/2 sacks in his last three games and has emerged as a valuable defensive piece.
“Quis is Quis,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “He’s an athlete, and sometimes I wonder why a team didn’t use him, because he’s a good athlete, and he makes plays.”
That team Van Noy was referencing was the Cincinnati Bengals, who gave Flowers just two total snaps on defense last season, using him exclusively as a special teamer.
Flowers often has discussed feeling more comfortable and appreciated in New England in the months since the Patriots traded for him in August, but he always has shied away from openly bashing his old team. He finally took the gloves off after his latest outing, calling the Bengals out in a series of tweets early Sunday morning.
— Van Noy did not record a sack against the Titans but took pride in being, in his words, the “Steve Nash” of the Patriots’ defense.
“Just trying to do my job and be where I needed to be,” he said. “When someone gets a sack in our group, it’s a group sack, because everybody has to do their job. And the guys that are covering have to do their job, as well.”
Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, who overheard Van Noy’s conversation with reporters, claimed the role of Shaquille O’Neal.
“I want to be Shaq,” said Jean Francois, who tallied his first sack in a New England uniform in the win. “I can’t shoot free throws, but I’m still good.”
— Jean Francois has been cut by two teams this season, including the Patriots. He’s played well in his second stint with New England, however, so much so that head coach Bill Belichick opted to sit defensive tackle Alan Branch against the Titans despite Branch’s claim earlier in the week that he was healthy enough to play.
“(It’s) a process that I’m enjoying,” Jean Francois said. “A journey that I’m enjoying. I’ve been through the ups and downs. I started (the season) with Green Bay, now it’s funny I’m here with the Patriots. It’s just been a roller coaster, but it’s a roller coaster that I’m actually enjoying.”
— A former Patriots player typically opens the door to New England’s locker room before each game, but Pats offensive tackle Marcus Cannon did the honors Saturday.
Cannon, New England’s No. 1 right tackle, currently is on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury in Week 8. One of his understudies, LaAdrian Waddle, went down with a knee injury Saturday night, putting his status for next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in question.
Cameron Fleming, who started the final five games of the regular season at right tackle, is a solid replacement, but the Patriots will be very thin at the position if Waddle can’t go. Rookie Cole Croston is the only other tackle on the 53-man roster.
Cornerback and special teams stud Jonathan Jones also left the game with an apparent leg injury and did not return.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images