35 thoughts on the Patriots’ 35-14 victory over the Titans Saturday in the AFC divisional playoffs.
1. It was a total team effort and a rout at once. In other words, it was a typical Patriots divisional round victory during this two-decade dynasty, as suspense-free as expected. This was not team turmoil. This was a team intent on inflicting turmoil on its opponent. The Tennessee Titans had no chance.
2. It feels like it happened in a different time in a different game, but it’s true: The Patriots’ 35-14 victory over the Titans in their divisional round matchup Saturday night in Foxborough did have a brief moment of early competitiveness.
3. The Titans actually had a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Patriots even punted on their first two possessions. Tom Brady wasn’t sharp, by his standards anyway.
4. No one around here expected the Titans to stay close. But we were starting to wonder if they might make it more interesting than expected. Sometimes that happens, like with the Texans in the same round a year ago.
5. Oh, but it did not this time. The Patriots overwhelmed them from the second quarter onward. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had just nine fewer first downs (30) than the Titans had run plays (39) to that point. That is more than dominance. That is brutally informing your opponent that it does not belong on the field with you.
6. The Patriots booked their record seventh straight trip to the conference finals with usual icons, stalwarts, and ol’ reliables leading the way. Brady finished 34 of 51 for 337 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
7. He improved to 7-0 against Mike Mularkey-coached teams, 7-1 against the Titans, and 7-2 against a Dick LeBeau-coached defense. That’s impressive stuff. And yet he probably owns a record like that against every longstanding coach in the league.
8. None of them had a chance against him Saturday. Brady played like he usual does, like he has for 17 years: with poise, with precision, with brilliance, with a vengeance. Those who harped on his age and his recent just-good performances in the buildup to this game look like fools. At least they can take comfort in it being a familiar feeling.
9. It wasn’t just Brady, of course. It was just about everyone. Dion Lewis, James White (two touchdowns), and Rob Gronkowski made important plays early when the score was still close. Danny Amendola (11 catches , 112 yards) was Mr. Dependable all day. The no-name defense continued to stymie just about any offense that lines up against it.
10. When it was over, Geneo Grissom had two of the Patriots’ eight sacks, Brandon Bolden picked up a rushing touchdown. All that was missing was a garbage-time interception.
11. Overall, Tennessee looked like the less disciplined team. They looked like they were in worse condition than the Patriots. And they were not a match in talent or experience, on the field or on the coaching staff. Other than that, equal matchup.
12. Perhaps the savviest move by a Patriot all day came when the Patriots were down 7-0 early in the second quarter. Dion Lewis popped up and booked it all the way to the end zone after he rolled over the top of a prone Titans tackler and it was uncertain whether he was ever down.
13. The officials initially ruled it to be a touchdown before correctly overturning the call on replay, marking the ball at the Tennessee 18 and turning Lewis’s 50-yard catch-and-run into a 32-yarder. Never a bad idea to try to dupe the refs. You never know what they’ll see, or what they won’t.
14. Two plays later, it was the Patriots’ other shifty running back who took it to the end zone. James White, out the last two weeks with a knee injury, looked like he was in good form on a 5-yard catch and run to tie the score at 7.
15. Three minutes and 57 seconds – and one brief Titans possession – later, White had his second touchdown of the quarter, the game, and the postseason, running it in from 6 yards out.
16. That one capped a 6-play, 48-yard drive that took all of 1 minute and 56 seconds, putting the Patriots up 14-7. The Patriots went no-huddle on the drive, while the Titans handled the sped-up tempo by looking like … well, like they’d really enjoy a nice, relaxing huddle if Brady would just give them a minute to catch their breath. He did not oblige.
17. Had no idea until Jim Nantz mentioned it on CBS’s broadcast that White’s most recent rushing touchdown before that came in overtime of Super Bowl LI. Sounds like an interesting play. Anyone have further details they can provide?
18. Both of those drives were impressive in their efficiency, But the drive that showed the Titans what they were really up against came at the end of the first half, and it all but clinched the game.
19. Brady led the Patriots on a 16-play, 91-yard drive that took 5 minutes and 18 seconds, culminating with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan. The Patriots converted three first downs on the drive.
20. But it was a fourth down that the Titans converted for the Patriots that was especially lamentable for the visitors. With the Patriots facing fourth and 5 from their own 14, the Titans’ Brynden Trawick, which might be an alias, was flagged for a neutral zone infraction, giving the Patriots a first down.
21. Brynden Trawick sounds like an alias. After that play, in which he claimed to the unsympathetic officials that he was drawn offsides by the Patriots’ Geneo Grissom, he probably wished he’d had one when he returned to the Titans sideline.
22. The Titans went into Moron Mode a couple of more times on the drive, including an unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker Erik Walden in the red zone. The Titans had six penalties for 37 yards in the first half, while the Patriots had two for 13 years.
23. Hogan now has three touchdowns in four career playoff games as a Patriot. It’s not exactly a David Givens-level streak (he had touchdowns in seven straight playoff games), but it’s impressive and serves as a reminder of how valuable he was a year ago and can be again.
24. Among athletes who deserve the nickname Big Game James, White is gaining on James Worthy, and they’re both pointing back and laughing at James Shields.
25. The Titans made a decision late in the first half that made you suspect they were ignoring Gronk’s warning to resist eating Tide Pods.
26. On fourth and 1 from the Patriots 46 and 25 seconds left in the half, Mariota handed off to Derrick Henry, who promptly got hemmed in by Patriots cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore, attempted some sort of U-turn, and lost five yards. It made little sense to go for it there, and it made no sense to go for it the way that they did.
27. The Patriots darn near turned the blunder into three more points, but Stephen Gostkowski missed a 53-yarder wide left. It was just Gostkowski’s fourth missed field goal of the season, and his first miss after four makes from beyond 50 yards.
28. Danny Amendola picked up a first down on his catch immediately before Gostkowski’s attempt, the Patriots calling timeout just as the clock showed 1 second left. Some will gripe that the single second felt like it lasted, oh, 2 ½ seconds until the timeout was called.
29. But according a tweet from Mike Pereira, Fox’s rules analyst and the league’s former vice president of officiating, “clock operators are brought in from other cities. They do not travel in the regular season but do in the playoffs. No home cooking.’’ So there.
30. Well, my prediction that the Patriots would cover the 13.5 point spread before the first quarter was complete didn’t quite pan out. No it did not.
31. Corey Davis, the No. 5 pick in the ’17 draft who had 34 catches but no touchdowns in 11 games during his injury plagued rookie season, hauled in his first NFL touchdown in style to give the Titans the early lead.
32. Davis beat Malcolm Butler and plucked Mariota’s throw with one hand to put the Titans up 7-0 with little more than a minute left in the first quarter. Looked like a first-round pick kind of play to me. Davis added another touchdown in garbage time.
33. Brady was just so-so in the early going by his standards. He threw a dart right on the bull’s-eye to Rob Gronkowski for 14 yards to convert a third and 8 on the Patriots’ second possession. But he missed an uncovered Gronk in the flat on the next third down as the drive stalled.
34. The Patriots’ best player in the first 15 minutes might have been punter Ryan Allen, who pinned the Titans at the 8 and 5 on his first two kicks.
35. The game felt out of hand midway through the third quarter, but the score still was just 21-7, and we have seen the Titans come back as recently as a week ago. So it was a little bit odd to hear Nantz and Tony Romo discussing head coaching options for Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia at some length with so much game left to play. But I suppose they were thinking the same way we were. The game was over. The Patriots’ run of dominance is not.