Final, Patriots 35-14: The Tennessee Titans kept it close for 20 minutes or so. In fact, they were winning after one quarter. But once the buzzsaw that is the New England Patriots got rolling, the visiting underdogs were left in the dust.
After surrendering the game’s first touchdown, the Patriots racked up 21 points over a 12-minute span in the second quarter, then proceeded to add additional touchdowns in the third and fourth to secure a resounding 35-14 victory and secure a spot in their NFL-record seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game.
They will host the winner of Sunday’s divisional-round matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars. That game will take place next Sunday at 3:15 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium.
Fourth quarter, 1:55, Patriots 35-14: The Titans finally snapped the Patriots’ run of 35 unanswered points, with Marcus Mariota finding Corey Davis in the end zone for the second time tonight.
Cornerback Jonathan Jones, who plays an important role on special teams for the Patriots, suffered an injury during the drive and left the field with team trainers.
Seldom-used defensive end Geneo Grissom sacked Mariota twice on the drive, giving New England a franchise playoff record eight sacks for the game.
Fourth quarter, 8:06, Patriots 35-7: The Titans finally picked up their first first down of the second half, but Deatrich Wise’s second sack of the game forced coach Mike Mularkey to send his punting unit out yet again.
New England now has six sacks tonight, five of which have come after halftime.
Fourth quarter, 10:22, Patriots 35-7: The Patriots are just toying with the Titans now.
New England drained 6:58 off the clock with a 15-play, 90-yard scoring drive that culminated Tom Brady’s third touchdown pass of the night. This time around, he hit Rob Gronkowski in the corner of the end zone for the tight end’s 10th career postseason touchdown.
The highlight of the drive came a few plays earlier when Brady scrambled out of the pocket on third-and-10 and lofted a floater that Danny Amendola hauled in just past the first-down marker.
Third quarter, 2:27, Patriots 28-7: Another Patriots sack — this one by Trey Flowers — leads to another Titans three-and-out. They don’t have a first down in the second half.
Third quarter, 4:02, Patriots 28-7: Brandon Bolden plunged into the end zone from 2 yards out to stretch the Patriots’ lead to 21 points.
Wait, Brandon Bolden?
That’s right, the running back/special teamer received a few carries in the red zone and capitalized on his opportunity, scoring his first touchdown since 2015 and his first rushing touchdown since 2014.
This game is as good as over.
Third quarter, 8:22, Patriots 21-7: The Patriots’ pass rush has devoured Marcus Mariota in this second half.
After Adam Butler brought down the Titans quarterback to end Tennessee’s first drive of the third quarter, Ricky Jean Francois and Marquis Flowers tallied sacks on back-to-back snaps to force another Titans punt.
Flowers has been a revelation for the Patriots in recent weeks. After failing to record a single sack in his first 46 NFL games, he has 4 1/2 in his last three.
Third quarter, 10:36, Patriots 21-7: Nothing doing for the Patriots on their first possession of the second half. Cameron Fleming replaced an injured LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle midway through the drive, so that’s a situation worth monitoring.
Third quarter, 12:30, Patriots 21-7: James Harrison drew a hold, Adam Butler recorded a sack, and the Patriots forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half.
Halftime, Patriots 21-7: The Patriots stopped Derrick Henry short on fourth-and-1, then ran three plays in 16 seconds to set up a 53-yard field-goal try by Stephen Gostkowski.
Gostkowski missed wide left, but New England still enters the break up 14 after trailing 7-0 after one quarter.
Henry, who rushed for 156 yards against the Chiefs last week, has been an absolute non-factor thus far for Tennessee, gaining just 24 yards on 11 carries.
Second quarter, 1:52, Patriots 21-7: After utilizing a Brett Kern punt and a holding penalty to pin the Patriots inside their own 10-yard line, the Titans appeared to force New England’s first three-and-out of the night.
Ryan Allen lined up to punt, and Geneo Grissom was called for a false start, pushing the Patriots even closer to their goal line. Officials conferred, however, and determined Grissom had been drawn offsides by a Titans player. The call was switched to a neutral zone infraction on Tennessee, giving New England a fresh set of downs.
The Patriots capitalized on the miscue, driving 91 yards in 16 plays to score their third touchdown of the quarters. The Titans assisted in that effort by committing two additional penalties, both of which resulted in first downs.
Tom Brady capped the scoring drive by firing a touchdown pass to Chris Hogan. It was Hogan’s first catch since Week 14 and his first touchdown since Week 5.
Second quarter, 9:20, Patriots 14-7: Uh oh. The Patriots’ offense is beginning to look dangerous again.
After a Titans three-and-out, the Patriots employed a hurry-up approach to gash Tennessee’s defense, gaining 48 yards on six plays in a touchdown drive that lasted just 1:56.
Brandin Cooks took a screen pass for 13 yards on the first play, but Dion Lewis and James White took over from there, picking up 8, 9, 5 and 7 yards on successive plays to set up White for a 6-yard touchdown run — his second score of the night.
Chris Hogan, playing in his first game since Week 14, laid a thunderous block on Wesley Woodyard earlier in the drive.
Second quarter, 13:18, 7-7: The Titans were the worst team in the NFL at covering running backs during the regular season. It took until their third possession, but the Patriots finally exploited that, picking up 55 yards on passes to Dion Lewis and James White en route to their first score of the game.
Lewis picked up 31 yards on a screen pass — which initially was ruled a 50-yard touchdown — then gained another 14 yards on a short pass one play later. After running into the line for no gain, White caught a jet sweep shovel pass from Tom Brady and outran safety Kevin Byard into the end zone to tie the score.
Lewis and White totaled 55 receiving yards on the drive.
First quarter, 1:14, Titans 7-0: The underdogs are on the board first.
Marcus Mariota guided the Titans on an 11-play, 95-yard scoring drive capped off by an incredible 15-yard touchdown catch by rookie receiver Corey Davis.
Mariota also beat the Patriots with his legs during the drive, rushing twice for 22 yards and picking up two first downs. The young quarterback has been the most effective rusher on either team thus far.
First quarter, 6:31, 0-0: For the second time in two drives, miscommunication on third down leads to a Patriots punt. Tom Brady had Rob Gronkowski open on the left side but couldn’t hit him.
Third-down maestro Danny Amendola did pick up a first down on third-and-8 earlier in the drive, beating former teammate Logan Ryan.
First quarter, 9:12, 0-0: A third-down sack by Deatrich Wise ended the Titans’ first possession after five plays.
The Patriots did a good job of bottling up Derrick Henry on that drive, holding the big back to 6 yards on three carries. James Harrison, who’s making his presence felt already, dragged Henry down with one hand for no gain on the play before Wise’s sack.
First quarter, 12:37, 0-0: The Patriots picked up one first down on their opening possession — a 14-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski on third-and-1 — but the drive stalled shortly thereafter.
Marcus Mariota and the Titans will take over at their own 8-yard line after a great punt by Ryan Allen.
First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: The Patriots won the opening coin toss and chose to receive. Let’s get it on.
The New England Patriots host the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round matchup at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night. NESN.com's Michaela Vernava, Doug Kyed and Zack Cox preview the game and tell you why the returns of Chris Hogan and James White should make this an easy playoff game for the Pats. https://nesn.com/new-england-patriots/
Posted by NESN on Saturday, January 13, 2018
7:45 p.m.: It appears LaAdrian Waddle will get the start at right tackle tonight for the Patriots. Waddle started four games earlier this season, but Cameron Fleming started the last five.
James Harrison also lined up with the Patriots’ starting defense during warmups.
6:50 p.m.: Rex Burkhead is, in fact, inactive tonight. So is defensive tackle Alan Branch, who said this week he was healthy enough to play.
Wide receiver Kenny Britt also will sit this game out with Chris Hogan returning to the lineup. Phillip Dorsett got the nod over the ex-Titan.
Cornerback Johnson Bademosi is a surprise healthy scratch. He played in every game during the regular season and is one of the Patriots’ best special teamers.
4:50 p.m.: Rex Burkhead reportedly is not expected to play tonight, but his jersey was featured in a pregame tweet from the Patriots’ official Twitter account.
Just mind games from the team? We’ll find out for sure when inactives are announced at 6:45 p.m. ET.
2:15 p.m. ET: Good afternoon from Gillette Stadium, where, in just a few short hours, the New England Patriots will continue their quest for a second consecutive Super Bowl title.
After finishing the regular season 13-3 and earning a first-round playoff bye, the Patriots will host the Tennessee Titans tonight in the divisional round. The winner advances to the AFC Championship Game. The loser’s season is over.
The Titans finished 9-7 and snuck into the playoffs via a wild-card spot, then upset the Kansas City Chiefs on the road last weekend. They’re led by dynamic quarterback Marcus Mariota, who engineered an 18-point second-half comeback against Kansas City, and big-bodied running back Derrick Henry, who trampled the Chiefs to the tune of a career-high 156 rushing yards.
This will be Mariota’s second career playoff game. His counterpart, Patriots QB Tom Brady, has 34 postseason starts to his credit and is seeking his seventh consecutive AFC title game appearance.
The Patriots largely are healthy entering this game, though they reportedly will be without running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. Wide receiver Chris Hogan and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, both of whom played sparingly down the stretch, were removed from the injury report this week and have been cleared to play.
Even with Burkhead out, look for the Patriots to try to exploit Tennessee’s poor pass defense against running backs. The Titans ranked dead last in DVOA against backs during the regular season and also struggled mightily against tight ends, ranking 24th in that category. They’ll be facing the best in the business tonight in All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who topped 140 receiving yards twice in New England’s last four games.
The Patriots have dominated the Titans throughout the Brady/Bill Belichick era, going 6-1 in seven meetings, including one in the 2003 divisional round. Tennessee has not beaten New England since 2002 and has not won in Foxboro since 1993.
Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. ET, but be sure to check back here throughout the afternoon for full pregame coverage.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images