If it wasn’t for Kevin Byard’s two interceptions against Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17, there’s a good chance the Tennessee Titans wouldn’t be meeting the New England Patriots in the divisional round on Saturday night.
Odds are, the Titans wouldn’t have finished the regular season at 9-7, wouldn’t have made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to upend the Kansas City Chiefs on wild-card weekend.
But Byard, Tennessee’s first-team All-Pro safety and the NFL’s co-leader in interceptions, picked off Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles on the third-and-9 to begin the fourth quarter of that Dec. 31 AFC South encounter. Then he did so again on first-and-10 with 18 seconds remaining in a 15-10 game.
Such a performance earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this campaign. Such a performance kept the door cracked for Tennessee to be where they are now.
So, what Byard said before his locker on Tuesday shouldn’t be digested without those other vital nutrients. It wasn’t Anthony Smith circa January 2007. It wasn’t the bulletin-board material it may appear to be.
Was it a little strong? Sure. Would Bill Belichick have been psyched if a member of New England's 53-man roster said it? Probably not. But what the 2016 third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State said about facing Tom Brady and the Patriots made sense – even if only nine of his candid words resonated in search engines.
“I want to make him look like Blake Bortles.”
Those were among 129 Byard offered in a span of 30 seconds.
It began with Byard, via TitansOnline.com, fielding this question: “You’ve been in the league long enough, these guys are your peers, but you probably grew up watching Brady and watching some of these guys. What’s it going to be like to face them in such a big setting?”
And the 24-year-old responded with: “Well, I mean, it’s a playoff game, so it’s not like it’s the preseason where I go out there and am like, ‘Oh, it’s Brady,’ and I’m chillin’. It’s a playoff game, so I don’t really care if it was Joe Montana, you know what I’m saying? I’m trying to go out there and win the game. I want to make him look like Blake Bortles if I can and try to catch a couple picks. Tom Brady’s a great quarterback, so I’m not really looking at it that way.”
Bortles, the oft-lampooned former No. 3 overall pick whose Jaguars finished atop Byard’s division, won’t often be mentioned with Brady. Nor did Byard set out to make a direct parallel from one to the other. He didn’t compare Brady to Montana, the 2000 Hall of Fame inductee, either, even though he mentioned his name as well.
That wasn’t the point.
Byard and the Titans, who check in as 13.5-point underdogs for the 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff, will face who they face.
The follow-up provided reinforcement on that end.
“Well that’s easier said than done,” the reporter conversed with Byard. “I mean, [Brady’s] been probably the best at his position for a long time.”
And Byard returned with: “Yeah, for sure. Probably the most efficient quarterback in the league other than Alex Smith this year. But, like I said, it’s a playoff game, so at the end of the day, all that’s out the window right now.”
He’s right. It is out the window.
And the Titans would gladly take another two-pick game from him Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Meet the Patriots' next opponent: Tennessee Titans
Meet the Patriots' upcoming opponent: The Tennessee Titans.Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Wednesday, January 10, 2018