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Patriots vs. Titans: Fan Notes from the AFC Divisional Round

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Business as usual.

That’s all that can really be said about Saturday night’s 35-14 beatdown of the Tennessee Titans. The game went almost exactly as expected - the Patriots were a little slow to start, but woke up in the 2nd quarter and imposed their will on both sides of the ball as an overmatched Tennessee team simply didn’t have any answers. Tom Brady was Tom Brady-esque, finishing the day with over 300 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. The defense registered eight sacks. Stephon Gilmore didn’t allow a completion all game. It was a team that looks as healthy and playoff ready as they have been in a long time, and while the Titans don’t represent a fearsome opponent, you have to be happy with what you saw as New England began its title defense in earnest.

  • Let it be decreed that no Patriots playoff game shall start later than 4PM EST for the rest of time.. Having to wait all day for the Titans game was absolute torture and more or less killed my entire Saturday.
  • In terms of pregame jitters...the only thing I was really nervous about regarding this game was my complete lack of nerves. This game felt, to me at least, very much like the season finale against the Jets, which is ever how you want to feel for a playoff game. Luckily for me, the Patriots didn’t feel the same way.
  • I was actually at the game the last time these two teams met in the postseason. I froze my ass off in the nosebleeds as the Patriots took home a 17-14 victory, their first win over both co-NFL MVPs that year. I remember ordering a Coors Light from a beer vendor, and it froze before I could even finish drinking it. The moral of this story? Drink faster.
  • That the Patriots won the toss and opted to receive says a lot about their opinion of the Titans running game and ability to control the clock. The thought process was obviously to score early and force Tennessee to play catch-up the whole time. It didn’t end up working right away, because again, this team doesn’t know how to play well in the first quarter of a divisional game, but there was enough of a talent disparity so that it didn’t really matter.
  • Surprisingly effective press coverage from Tennessee early on. Unsurprising is that the Patriots came out of the gate slow and rusty yet again in a divisional game. I don’t know what it is about this team ad slow starts in the playoffs, but they need to work on that before next year’s first round bye.
  • Somewhere out there, there’s a college graduate with huge dreams of making it big in the entertainment industry whose primary job for the last few years has been to make sure that the Diet Dr. Pepper can is proportionately sized for mini Justin Guarini. To whoever that is...hang in there.
  • But seriously - when was the last time the Patriots played well in the 1st quarter of a divisional game? 2011 against the Broncos?
  • It more or less ended up being their only decent drive of the game...but what Marcus Mariota was able to do on the 95 yard drive to give the Titans the lead should give Titans fans a lot of reason for optimism. He can read a defense when he needs to, he knows how to be accurate, and he’s one of the better scrambling QBs in the league.
  • I’m just glad that the Titans scored early like that. The smart play might have been to just milk the hell out of the clock and try to win 3-0 just as time expired.
  • Something that has been on my mind regarding flags and penalties, and all of the justifiable grumbling by players and fans everywhere about how it affects the game as a whole: if you have ever played any sport, from about high school on, you’ll agree that every referee or set of officials is different. Everyone calls games, no matter what the sport, differently. Some refs run a really tight ship. Some refs like to let you play. Some refs don’t blow the whistle until they see blood and hear bones break. Reading the officials is just part of playing sports. The good players and teams figure out how the refs are calling it and adjust their play accordingly.
  • Welcome back into the fold, James White.
  • That said, that White TD was more or less along the same plane as the Kelvin Benjamin TD that wasn’t a few weeks back. I didn’t see indisputable, incontrovertible evidence to overturn the call on the field, and so it should have stood. I think the Benjamin TD should have stood as well. That’s a pretty big inconsistency there and it’s exactly the kind of thing that gives the “refs love the Patriots” morons fodder.
  • That false start that then became an offsides and first down didn’t help either. Just once, I want an NFL week to go by without the phrase “the refs” being uttered by any fanbase.
  • It would appear that the Patriots were also operating out of the “either stuff them at the line or leave them wide, wide open” defensive package. Bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for them.
  • The first half of this game was basically Lewis and Amendola (note to self: go back through my Fan Notes, look at all the duos I’ve listed that would also make good 70s folk groups, and come up with a Billboard Top 10), as the Titans seemed very concerned with the sidelines and the middle/over routes. So Tommy B just took the middle of the field as his office and let his players make plays.
  • Chris Hogan might be the most understated red zone threat in the NFL. I get it; when you look at this guy, you don’t think “danger to light you up for six.” But it’s great to have him back.
  • When New England took a 21-3 lead into halftime, that was more or less it. The Titans just aren’t built to come back from a halftime defecit...wait a minute here...
  • What the hell were the Titans doing going for it on 4th and 1, with no timeouts, and running the ball? Nothing about that playcall made any sense. I have no problem going for it, but once you call that timeout, you can’t run the ball anymore or the half is over. So what’s the best case scenario there? First down and a chance at a Hail Mary?
  • And then, the Titans touched Danny Amendola down when he made the catch to get them into field goal range instead of just letting him lie there and ending the half. It’s like they just decided to ignore very basic and specific instructions. Like pretty much the entire planet and sticking Q-tips deep into your ear.
  • Seriously, people - it says right there on the back of the box not to stick those swaps into your earhole - it just pushes all the gunk deeper back. But that doesn’t stop us, does it?
  • It’s weird to me that Dion Lewis was in the NFL prior to coming to New England. He’s just such a beast that I can’t understand how he more or less couldn’t crack an NFL roster until signing with New England.
  • When you hear the name “Ricky Jean-Francois,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? For me, it isn’t a defensive lineman who registered a sack in an NFL playoff game. Ricky Jean Francois is the downstairs neighbor who you can’t stand whose teacup poodle craps on your doorstep after he steals your paper every Sunday.
  • How does Brandon Bolden walk into the end zone like that? I’ll tell you how: James Devlin. I’ll be very curious to see how history remembers James Devlin. As fullbacks continue to get phased out of the game, he remains one of the best in the business and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could trace at least 20 major Patriots plays this season alone to a block he threw. I don’t want to go crazy and say he’s a surefire Patriots Hall of Famer...but I hope he at least makes the discussion.
  • It wasn’t overly difficult to make the prediction that the Titans weren’t going to be able to hang in a game where they had to abandon the run because they were down a few scores...but I had no idea that their offense would completely collapse upon having to rely on Mariota’s arm. The Patriots didn’t do anything too fancy defensively, and once the Titans lost Taylor Lewan, New England didn’t even need to stunt the rushers, choosing to utilize A-gap blitzes instead to prevent Mariota from moving up in the pocket. And those eight sacks were coverage sacks as much as pressure sacks. Great job from the secondary.
  • The exception, sadly, was Malcolm Butler, who hasn’t been having a great year overall. He surrendered 68 yards and two TDs on six catches. In his defense, more often than not Butler is a cornerback who does everything right, but whoever he’s up against just does it better. But I have a feeling he has a minimum of one and a maximum of two games left in a Patriots uniform.
  • Since trailing 28-3 in Super Bowl, LI, the Patriots have outscored postseason their opponents 66-14. What a great stat.
  • You know what’s sad? That 3rd and 10 play early in the 4th quarter where Tommy B looked through his progressions, felt the pressure, stepped up in the pocket, scrambled to his right, and threw across his body while falling to the ground to hit Danny Amendola for the first down won’t even crack the top 100 best plays Brady has ever made and by this time next year it will be long forgotten. That play would headline a lot of QB’s career highlight reels.
  • If you’re the Titans or a Titans fan this morning, you have to be happy with how your team performed this season and in the playoffs. That Chiefs win was huge, and the Patriots are just a better team. Better coach, better QB, better players, better gameplan. Tennessee just got outclassed, plain and simple. It happened to the Patriots against the Broncos. No shame at all in losing to a better team.
  • Tommy B now has another record under his belt - 10 playoff games with 3+ TD passes. Joe Montana loses another one.
  • Still waiting for the Patriots defense to proactively generate an interception as opposed to one just falling into their laps.
  • You’ll have a hard time convincing me that Bill Belichick didn’t challenge that late-game Eric Decker catch just to give his defense a bit of extra rest. And that he was so pissed that the refs made him throw it farther than he wanted to this happened and I can’t stop laughing.
  • The thing I’m most excited about regarding this game? Gronk is still healthy.
  • I really, really hope I didn’t just screw the entire playoffs.
  • I’m not gonna lie...I was at Paddy’s of Park Slope watching this game (shocking, I know), and after that Gronk TD in the 4th quarter I found myself getting a little more hydrated than I ever planned on getting, so the rest of the game isn’t as sharp as it probably should be. And I’m not going to go back and watch this game again because I’m lazy. Plus, the only thing shocking about this game was that Tennessee led at one point. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t have a whole lot to say beyond the 4th quarter other than “go Patriots.”
  • The last four quarterbacks left are Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Case Keenum. And Tom Brady. Bortles, Foles, and Keenum have five playoff starts combined.
  • Don’t let that stat fool you, though; I don’t think I can remember a more decorated set of Championship Weekend playcallers. Between them, the four QBs that will take the field on Sunday have combined for seven Super Bowl appearances, five Super Bowl wins, 12 Conference Championships, 41 playoff game appearances, and 30 playoff wins. Get ready for some fireworks.
  • In all seriousness, though - this Jags defense is TERRIFYING. Yikes.

The New England Patriots are now heading to their 7th straight AFC Championship Game. Tommy B is getting ready to play in his 12th. That’s 2nd most all time, behind only the entire history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The only year that the Patriots haven’t made the playoffs since 2002 was an 11-5 season where they missed out on the third tiebreaker. I have been using the term “it’s all gravy at this point” for a few years now, but we’re officially putting gravy on our gravy now. The Patriots might win next week to appear in another Super Bowl. They might lose and their season might end next week as well. I’m loving it either way - one way significantly more than the other. What a great time to be a Pats fan. Enjoy this, folks.

We’re on to Pittsburgh Jacksonville.