After a baffling loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the New England Patriots are set to play in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Their opponent: a Tennessee Titans team led by former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel.
Vrabel, who won three Super Bowl titles during his eight seasons in New England, offered some early impressions of next weekend’s matchup at Gillette Stadium after Tennessee knocked off the Houston Texans 35-14 on Sunday.
“You’re basically walking into the viper’s den,” the Titans head coach told reporters during his postgame news conference. “We’re going to have to go on the road and beat a team that’s won a lot of playoff games up there.”
The Patriots squandered their chance to earn a first-round playoff bye by losing 27-24 to the Dolphins as 16 1/2-point favorites. New England now has lost two of its last three home games after winning 21 in a row, including the postseason.
No team has defeated the Patriots at Gillette during the playoffs since the Baltimore Ravens did so in the 2013 AFC Championship Game.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Vrabel, whose team won seven of its final 10 games to finish 9-7 and earn the AFC’s second wild-card playoff berth. “You’re going to have to go on the road in a tough environment (against a) great defense. They’re no strangers to winning playoff football games at home, so we’ll have to go up there, we’ll have to prepare, find out when we play, get a schedule, get guys healthy and start the preparation.”
Vrabel coached the Titans to a 34-10 victory over the Patriots in Nashville, Tenn., last season. This will be his first game back in Foxboro, Mass., as a head coach, though he did return multiple times during his stint as a Houston Texans assistant.
The Titans hosted the Patriots for a series of joint practices and a preseason game this past summer.
“I haven’t had a paycheck with a Patriots logo on it since 2008, so it was no different than going and coaching against them with the Texans or coaching against them last year,” Vrabel told reporters. “It’s a huge challenge to up there and try to win.”