The playoffs could not have started much better for the New England Patriots. Taking on the visiting Tennessee Titans, the defending world champions started slowly but picked up steam to march to a 35-14 victory. New England looked very good in all three phases of the game and now has the right to play in its seventh straight AFC championship game against either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With all that being said, let's take a look at some of the winners and losers of yesterday's game:
Winners: Deatrich Wise Jr., Geneo Grissom and the rest of New England's pass rush
Once the Patriots started to build a lead and force Tennessee into pass-first mode, the pass rushers were able to pin their ears back and go after Marcus Mariota. And boy, did they go after him. On the day, the Titans quarterback was sacked a postseason franchise record eight times with six players contributing: Deatrich Wise Jr. and Geneo Grissom were tied for the team-lead with two sacks each, while Trey Flowers, Marquis Flowers, Adam Butler and Ricky Jean Francois were also able to take down Mariota.
Winner: RB Dion Lewis
While it was no historic performance like the one Dion Lewis had last year against the Houston Texans, the running back played another terrific divisional round game. Lewis finished the contest versus Tennessee with 168 all-purpose yards as a runner, pass catcher and kick returner. Overall, he carried the football 15 times for a combined gain of 62 yards while also catching nine passes for 79. Furthermore, Lewis registered a 27-yard kickoff return. Another spectacular performance by one of the league’s most dangerous weapons.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
Any questions there might have been about Tom Brady entering the playoffs distracted or not at the top of his game were answered decisively. The NFL's best quarterback had a typical Brady performance against a solid Titans defense: Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, all while completing 35 of 53 pass attempts to seven different receivers. CBS color commentator Tony Romo called it a “quarterback clinic” at one point and it was exactly that. Brady was in full control.
Winner: WR Danny Amendola
Playoff Danny Amendola is back and he is not messing around. Against Tennessee, the 32-year old played one of its best games in a Patriots uniform and led the team in receptions and receiving yards. Amendola caught 11 passes for 112 yards – both playoff bests for him. Five of his catches came on third down and helped keep drives alive as Amendola, Tom Brady's go-to-guy, did his best Julian Edelman impression versus the Titans.
Losers: WR Phillip Dorsett and WR Kenny Britt
Entering yesterday's game, the Patriots were healthier than they have been in a long time. This, in turn, was bad news for two of New England's wide receiver acquisitions: Kenny Britt was declared inactive prior to the game; fellow wideout Phillip Dorsett did dress but did not play a single snap. On a grander schale, though, this is good for the Patriots who simply do not need contributions from their depth players right now that hey have all hands on deck.
Winner: RB Brandon Bolden
Entering the season, New England had one of the deepest running back corps in recent memory. However, with injuries taking their toll and forcing both Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee to be deactivated, it was time for Brandon Bolden to step up – and that is exactly what he did. The core special teamer finished the game against Tennessee with four carries for 27 yards and a touchdown. The numbers will not wow anyone but they show how Bolden was able to deliver when asked to do so.
Winner: SS Patrick Chung
The Patriots know a thing or two about tight ends and yesterday's opponent features one of the best in the business: Delanie Walker. The 33-year old led the Titans in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season as one of Marcus Mariota's most trusted weapons. And Patriots safety Patrick Chung was able to shut him down for most of the game. On the day, Walker caught only three passes for 49 yards as Chung was the primary player responsible for covering him. A very good performance by the veteran safety.
Loser: OT LaAdrian Waddle
Starting at right tackle, LaAdrian Waddle played a good game against a talented Titans defensive front. It is not his play that lands him on this week's list of losers but rather the fact that he had to exit it after suffering a knee injury. According to a report by the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, there is “not a lot of early optimism” regarding the injury. A tough break for a player that is a) a starter on the offensive line, and b) about to enter unrestricted free agency after the season.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
Statistically speaking, Stephon Gilmore had a quiet day as he registered only one assistant tackle against the Titans. However, don't let it fool you: Gilmore played a terrific game and was in full lockdown mode from start to finish. The first-year Patriots cornerback was targeted four times, did not allow a catch and broke up two passes. Gilmore erased whoever was lined up against him in an impressive performance.
Loser: CB Malcolm Butler
Led by the above-mentioned Stephon Gilmore, New England's defensive backfield had a very good day – with one notable exception: Malcolm Butler. The Patriots' starting outside cornerback did not live up to his standards as he surrendered six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns (although, to be fair, the first of which was just perfect execution by Tennessee's offense). Against better competition, Butler will need to elevate his game.
Winner: Joe Thuney and the Patriots blockers
During the regular season, New England's offensive line was up and down and left guard Joe Thuney best exemplified for that. The second-year player had some outstanding moments followed by some bad ones followed by some outstanding ones on a regular basis early in the year. Against the Titans, Thuney – just like the rest his fellow offensive linemen – played a very good game: No matter if run blocking or pass blocking, pulling or zone blocking, he looked a lot more consistent and as a result productive. All in all, a good day for him and the rest of Dante Scarencchia's unit.
Winner: Rob Gronkowski
After missing last year's playoff run due to a back injury, Rob Gronkowski was back in action for the Patriots yesterday – and showed quickly why he is among the NFL's top offensive weapons. The 28-year old finished the game with six catches for 81 yards and a score while dominating Titans All Pro defensive back Kevin Byard. If Gronkowski stays healthy continues to play on yesterday's level, New England's offense is near-unstoppable.