Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots played to keep playing.
And in his 41st career playoff start, and first on wild-card weekend in a decade, quarterback Tom Brady did the same. But the No. 3 Patriots would not survive the No. 6 Tennessee Titans, who advanced to the AFC divisional round by a score of 20-13.
Here’s a touchdown of observations from it.
No handling Henry
Derrick Henry entered as the NFL’s 2019 rushing champion, and as an Associated Press second-team All-Pro who had taken home AFC Offensive Player of the Week in December’s finale. The linebacker-sized Titans running back handled 32 carries for 211 yards and three touchdowns versus the resting Houston Texans to secure a playoff place.
And with that, Henry stood with 18 total touchdowns on the regular season. New England’s defense allowed a total of 20 in that span.
The dent Henry could make was not lost in the fog Saturday. He closed out the 8:25 p.m. ET kickoff with a franchise-record 182 ground yards on 34 carries, beginning with gains of four, five, five, seven, eight, nine and 10 yards on Tennessee’s opening drive. A 5-2 box of Patriots defenders proved to be frequent early, and the next pair of drives included only a pair of carries worth four yards for Henry. Yet the Titans’ zone scheme committed to the 2015 Heisman Trophy recipient, who broke past the century mark before halftime. Henry would be in the end zone by then as Tennessee took a 14-13 advantage. The Patriots reconvened after intermission with a 6-1 defensive front.
Chung’s Patriots exit met by Titans touchdown
With under six minutes remaining in the first quarter, strong safety Patrick Chung limped to the sideline with the help of the Patriots’ training staff. On the ensuing snap, which saw Terrence Brooks step on in his place, Titans tight end Anthony Firkser opened space.
Firkser’s post pattern resulted in a touchdown from 12 yards out.
Chung, who had been listed on the injury report earlier in the season with chest and heel injuries, went to the blue medical tent. He’d been in the immediate coverage of one touchdown during the regular season, and not until Week 17. New England would announce Chung as questionable to return due to an ankle injury. The former Oregon Duck was drafted back in 2009, at No. 33 overall, a pick obtained in the trade that sent eventual Titans head coach Mike Vrabel out of New England.
Edelman joins NFL’s postseason shortlist with first career rushing score
To begin the second quarter Saturday, Julian Edelman became just fourth player to pass, catch and rush for a touchdown in his NFL playoff career.
The rushing element marked the new element. The 33-year-old wide receiver took a jet sweep from Brady in from five yards away to give the Patriots a 10-7 lead. Edelman, who ranks second on the all-time playoff receptions list behind only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, had not been targeted in the passing attack prior to the rush. But the rush put him in the scoring company of Freeman McNeil, Kordell Stewart and Nick Foles.
New England’s next trek to the goal line ended in a Tennessee stand, led by linebacker Rashaan Evans. A second field goal by kicker Nick Folk followed.
Tennessee’s QB revisits New England without the vertical game
Ryan Tannehill visited Foxborough six times during his stay in the AFC East, and lost all six. But the former Miami Dolphins quarterback revisited in different colors for his first career playoff start. And Tannehill did so having posted the league’s highest passer rating since inheriting a 2-4 Titans team.
Play-action passing was no small part in why the Titans finished the regular season at 9-7. Rookie receiver A.J. Brown wasn’t, either. In December alone, Tannehill found Brown for 18 completions, 425 receiving yards and four touchdowns. But to open January, Tennessee’s passing game crossed paths with a New England defense that ranked second in net yards per pass attempt. There’d be a concerted effort to eliminate the vertical game, and to take away a 1,000-yard Ole Miss target in Brown.
Tannehill went 5-of-9 passing in the first half. And by the final score, he’d gone 8-of-15. Tannehill connected with Brown, the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month, on one occasion for four yards along the way. Brown faced the primary coverage of back-to-back first-team All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Harmon closes on an interception to no avail
Duron Harmon had intercepted more than half of his NFL interceptions in the fourth quarter. New England’s outfielder got another with 14:52 to go on Saturday.
Tannehill threw off his back foot and toward wide receiver Corey Davis then as Harmon closed in on the coverage of teammate J.C. Jackson. It’d be the 21st pick in all for the Rutgers Scarlet Knight.
But New England’s ensuing drive would result in a punt as the game remained a one-point one.
Brady-led New England offense gets chance at the final say
After a penalty sequence that featured a false start, a neutral-zone infraction and a delay of game, New England’s offense stepped on with 4:44 left. In the shadow of the goal posts, the score read 14-13. But a third-and-6 pass from Brady would be dropped by a Super Bowl LIII MVP in Edelman. A pass to fellow wideout Phillip Dorsett sailed to the sideline, and the punt team stepped on.
The Titans converted two first downs before New England expended its last timeout.
New England got the football back with 15 seconds and 99 yards to go. Ex-Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan turned Brady’s last pass of January into an interception for a touchdown.