By now, Patriots fans have heard the not-so-good news: Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins means New England slides to the No. 3 spot in the AFC playoffs and will be forced to play on wild-card weekend for the first time in 10 years.
The opponent that day was the Baltimore Ravens, who came in to Gillette Stadium and ran for 234 yards in a 33-14 pasting of the Patriots. Ray Rice led the way, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, good for a 7.2 yards per carry average.
This year’s edition of the Patriots has also shown to be vulnerable against the run, which is not reassuring as they get ready for this year’s opponent. The 9-7 Tennessee Titans finished second in the AFC South to clinch the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoffs. They did so in large part by having the third-leading rushing attack this season. Their 2,223 yards trailed only the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
Here’s a look at some of the key figures for the Titans:
Head coach Mike Vrabel
Vrabel was a key cog in the Patriots’ first three Super Bowl victories, starring as a linebacker but also showing versatility to come in on offense and serve as a tight end. In two seasons as head coach with the Titans, he is 18-14, and will be making his postseason coaching debut. Against the Patriots last season, Vrabel got the better of his former organization, leading the Titans to a 34-10 win, and, in the process, making Tom Brady look very old.
Running back Derrick Henry
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner is coming off his best NFL season, establishing career highs for rushing attempts (804), yards (1,540), average (5.1), and touchdowns (16) to win this year’s rushing crown. With the Titans needing a win Sunday to ensure a playoff berth, Henry rushed for a season-high 211 yards and three touchdowns in Tennessee’s 35-14 win over Houston.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill
After sevens seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Tannehill and a sixth round pick were traded to the Titans in exchange for draft picks in March. He began the 2019 season as the backup, but took over the starting duties when Marcus Mariota struggled. He has appeared in 12 games, making 10 starts in which the team has gone 7-3, He has thrown for 2,742 yards and 22 touchdowns, and just six interceptions, and was named as an alternate for the Pro Bowl.
Running back Dion Lewis
The former Patriots running back was the second leading rusher for the Titans, gaining 209 yards on 54 carries. He also had 25 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown.
Wide receiver A.J. Brown
After starring at Mississippi, Brown was selected by the Titans in the second round of the 2019 draft with the 51st pick, 19 picks after the Patriots selected N’Keal Harry. He has 1,051 receiving yards on just 52 receptions, good for a 20.2 average per catch, as well as eight touchdowns, and is in the conversation for the offensive rookie of the year award.
Wide receiver Adam Humphries
The Patriots pursued Humphries last year in free agency, but the former Buccaneer agreed to a deal with Tennessee, citing Tom Brady’s age as a key reason why he chose the Titans. He has 37 receptions for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
Cornerback Logan Ryan
The former Patriots cornerback leads the Titans with 113 tackles. He also has four interceptions, second on the team to safety Kevin Byard. Both Ryan and Byard were chosen as Pro Bowl alternates. Don’t look for another former Patriot, Malcolm Butler, at the other cornerback position for Tennessee. The hero of Super Bowl XLIX was placed on injured reserve with a broken wrist suffered in Week 9.
Defensive end Jurell Casey
The nine-year veteran has 51 career sacks. This season he has 44 tackles and five sacks en route to be named as an alternate for the Pro Bowl.
Linebacker Harold Landry
The second year linebacker starred at Boston College, racking up 160 tackles, 26 sacks and 47.5 tackles for a loss. The Titans traded up in the 2018 draft to select him in the second round with the 41st pick. He leads the Tennessee defense this year with nine sacks.
Punter Brett Kern
We all know how much value Patriots coach Bill Belichick puts on special teams. The Titans have a Pro Bowl punter in Kern, who averaged 47.1 yards on 78 punts this season. Long snapper Beau Brinkley was chosen as an alternate for the Pro Bowl.