In extending yet another of their own NFL records, the Patriots are headed back to the AFC Championship Game for a seventh consecutive season.
Players up and down the roster helped New England overcome a sluggish start to come out looking like the juggernaut it’s supposed to be in a 35-14 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night.
Playoff heroes new and old minted their names in Patriots postseason lore.
U.S. & World
There’s not much Tom Brady hasn’t already accomplished, but just for good measure he continued to extend several of his own records on Saturday night. For starters, it was win No. 26 of his postseason career, and the 13th time he’s gone over 300 yards passing in the playoffs.
In his first playoff game at the age of 40, Brady completed 35 of his 53 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 102.5 passer rating – the ninth-best mark of his postseason career.
While it all ended with Brady, it didn’t exactly begin there. Hard as it is to believe, the Patriots trailed the Titans, 7-0 through 15 minutes of football on Saturday night.
That’s when Dion Lewis appeared to break free for a 50-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass, giving the New England offense the much-needed shot in the arm it lacked in the first quarter.
Ultimately, Lewis was ruled down by contact after a 31-yard gain. Still, his energy proved to be just the antidote the Patriots needed. Lewis gained 14 more yards through the air on the very next play, setting up James White for a 5-yard touchdown catch two plays later.
Scoring touchdowns in the postseason is nothing new for White, who had three in Super Bowl LI against Atlanta. He kept the party going Saturday night with not one, but two scores, the second of which gave New England the lead for good with 9:27 left in the second quarter.
White’s 6-yard touchdown run capped off a brief six-play, 48-yard drive for the Patriots that demonstrated the level of separation between themselves and the Titans. New England ran the entire set up-tempo without huddling, gassing a Tennessee defense that had looked so stout in the first quarter.
The tempo slowed, but the results remained the same for the Patriots throughout the rest of the game.
Danny Amendola, renowned for his playoff performances, finally broke through with the first 100-yard receiving game of his postseason career; he led New England in both receptions (11) and receiving yards (112).
Lewis chipped in with nine catches for 79 yards, while Rob Gronkowski quietly caught six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown – a score which put the exclamation point on the latest playoff victory in Foxboro for the Patriots with 10:22 left in the fourth quarter to make it 35-7.
Not to be outdone, New England’s defense put together a performance for the ages.
Playoff newcomer Stephon Gilmore shined in his debut on the big stage, allowing zero catches on balls thrown in his direction on a mere three targets. Gilmore broke up one pass, a big play at the time given Tennessee’s ever-so-brief 7-0 lead.
Marcus Mariota struggled in the face of pressure, the majority of which came from simple three- or four-man rushes. He was sacked eight times for total losses of 52 yards, with rookie Deatrich Wise Jr. leading the way with two. Fellow rookie Adam Butler also had a sack, while Trey Flowers, Marquis Flowers, Ricky Jean Francois and Geneo Grissom (twice) also brought Mariota down behind the line of scrimmage. The eight sacks are a New England postseason record.
The Titans, who entered the postseason with a negative point-differential of minus-22, looked the part from the second quarter on. Entering the fourth quarter, Tennessee had just as many penalties (nine) as first downs.
Playing in his first game since Dec. 11 and just his second since Week 8 in October, Chris Hogan had only one catch, but it went for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 21-7 lead at halftime.
Brandon Bolden, known mostly for his work on special teams, also scored a touchdown out of the backfield for the Patriots. In his sixth season with the team, it was just the 10th postseason carry for Bolden and his first career playoff touchdown.
New England awaits the winner of Sunday afternoon’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC title game. No matter who wins, the game will be played a week from Sunday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.