After finishing the regular season as the third playoff seed in the AFC, the New England Patriots had to play on wild card weekend for the first time since January 2010. And as was the case back then, the postseason ended quickly and in disappointment: the visiting Tennessee Titans played a ball-control game and made enough plays in all three phases to knock the reigning world champions from the tournament with a final score of 20-13.
#3 Patriots (12-5) 13 : 20 #6 Titans (10-7)
The Patriots lost the coin toss and therefore received the opening kickoff to start the game on offense. While the much-maligned unit started slowly with two incomplete passes, Tom Brady connected with Benjamin Watson on a third-and-10 and keep the series alive. New England followed up the conversion with a 29-yard screen pass to James White but the drive ultimately stalled, forcing the home team to kick a 36-yard field goal. [Patriots 3 : 0 Titans]
Tennessee’s offense, meanwhile, started the game in familiar fashion: by trying to establish a presence on the ground with Derrick Henry. The plan worked well early on, and allowed the team to quickly march down the field into New England’s red zone. While the Patriots did force the Titans in a third-and-10 situation, the visitors converted — and more: tight end Anthony Firkser beat Terrence Brooks, who was on the field after Patrick Chung got shaken up, for a 12-yard touchdown. [Patriots 3 : 7 Titans]
New England replied well to Tennessee’s touchdown, by quickly driving into Titans territory again thanks to an 11-yard reception by Mohamed Sanu and a 25-yard run by Sony Michel. Additional big plays by Benjamin Watson, Rex Burkhead and James White gave the Patriots their first goal-to-go situation in the game by the end of the first quarter.
Starting the quarter with a second-and-goal from the 5-yard line, New England scored right away: Julian Edelman crossed the formation and received the hand-off on a jet-sweep. The veteran wide receiver had no trouble getting to the edge and into the end zone for the first rushing touchdown of his career. [Patriots 10 : 7 Titans]
After the Titans had no problem marching down the field on their first drive of the game, their second lasted only three plays and ended when defensive tackle Adam Butler deflected a pass attempt on third-and-three to force a punt. New England’s next drive almost met the same fate, but a third-and-three conversion from Brady to Edelman extended the series. The Patriots eventually had to punt the football away three plays later, however, after Elandon Roberts was stopped on a hand-off on third-and-one.
Following the punt, Tennessee started at its own 10-yard line but for the second straight drive did not go anywhere: the series again ended after three plays, which forced another punt — one that was returned 24 yards to the Titans’ 47-yard line by Mohamed Sanu to give the Patriots excellent field position. New England’s offense took advantage and was able to drive into scoring range immediately behind a good mix of running and passing.
Some more strong running by Sony Michel and a third-and-six conversion from Brady to N’Keal Harry put the Patriots in another goal-to-go situation. This time, however, the Tennessee defense held and stopped three straight rushing attempts to force New England to send kicker Nick Folk onto the field for a second time. The veteran was good again and put his team up by six points. [Patriots 13 : 7 Titans]
Momentum continued to shift back to the Titans on the next possession, as they were able to get Derrick Henry going again. The big-bodied back, who led the NFL in rushing yards during the regular season, had four runs — including a 29-yarder to open the drive — before catching a screen pass and taking it 22 yards to the 1-yard line. There, it took him just one play to get in and put his team up front again. [Patriots 13 : 14 Titans]
New England got the football back with 35 seconds and one timeout available, but did only get to midfield before having to attempt an ultimately unsuccessful Hail Mary pass to end the half.
After giving up a touchdown on its last drive of the first half, the Patriots defense surrendered only one first down on the second before forcing a punt that set up the team’s offense at its own 13-yard line. New England, meanwhile, started the half in similar fashion: the team was able to get two first downs before ultimately having to punt as well after a penalty against Shaq Mason negated what would have been a 38-yard pass to Benjamin Watson on third-and-10.
Luckily for the home team, Tennessee was unable to take advantage: despite gaining a first down on a pass interference call against Jonathan Jones to get into Patriots territory again, the Titans eventually had to punt. A strip-sack by Kyle Van Noy — the ball was eventually recovered by Ryan Tannehill — and a pass-breakup on third down by J.C. Jackson forced the AFC’s sixth seed to once more kick the ball away.
New England’s offense again saw some positive plays like a beautifully executed 20-yard strike from Brady to Edelman to move the sticks on a third-and-two. Eventually, however, the team had to send Jake Bailey onto the field to punt for a third time after the quarterback and rookie receiver N’Keal Harry failed to connect on a third-and-six.
The ball was back in the offense’s hands quickly after the punt, though, as Tannehill threw an interception to end the series: the first-year Titan tried to hit Corey Davis on a deep pass but threw the ball off his back foot and saw it get picked off by Duron Harmon:
Unfortunately for the Patriots, their offense failed to take advantage of the opportunity: the unit did get one first down on a defensive penalty but eventually had to punt again when Brady and Phillip Dorsett failed to connect on a third-and-three. Instead of driving for a potential score off the takeaway, Jake Bailey had to come on again and his kick landed into the end zone for a touchback.
Tennessee stuck with the running game on its next series and was once again able to get into New England territory. And while the drive did end with another punt, a back-and-fourth of penalties allowed the Titans to milk almost two additional minutes off the clock after using six during the possession. At the end, the team gave the Patriots the ball back at their own 11-yard line with under five minutes left in regulation.
The Patriots did get a first down on a pass to James White to open the series, but failed to advance much further as a short pass to Dorsett in combination with an Edelman drop and incomplete pass forced New England to punt the football again. Tennessee, meanwhile, was able to run the clock down even further on its next drive: the team got two first down conversions and punted the football with only 25 seconds left in the game.
Just like one week earlier, the Patriots failed to do anything with the ball one last time as a pick-six by ex-Patriot Logan Ryan ended the game in the visitors’ favor. [Patriots 13 : 20 Titans]