Patriots overcome slow start to claim AFC Championship game spot


The New England Patriots overcame a slow start on Saturday night to beat the Titans and advance to another AFC Championship Game.

The New England Patriots haters are out in full force now that the playoffs have begun for the team, but they won’t be happy with Saturday’s result.

The Patriots are advancing to their 7th consecutive AFC Championship Game, an NFL record. Many on Twitter and around the internet want to claim that the referees helped to get the Patriots the Divisional Round win over the Titans, but they could not be more wrong. Penalties were missed on both teams, sometimes even on the same play. But, who cares. The Patriots will again be in the AFC title game and that is that.

The first quarter was not good for the New England Patriots as the offense lacked rhythm and the defense gave up an extremely long scoring drive. Tennessee marched 95-yards down the field thanks to QB Marcus Mariota. He was able to make some great passes and then was able to rush and scramble to create plays from nothing. New England failed to use a QB spy at times, and Mariota was able to recognize that and take off. He threw a dime to his WR Corey Davis in the back of the end zone over Malcolm Butler for the first score of the game. Butler played it perfectly, but the throw was so well-placed that it didn’t matter what he did. Davis made a spectacular one-handed catch and Tennessee had stunned the Gillette Stadium crowd by taking an early lead.

Still, most fans were not panicking at that point. This is New England, they find a way to win. From that point on, the Patriots were in control.

On their responding drive, Tom Brady led the Patriots down the field and completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mr. Playoffs, James White. The next drive resulted in a White touchdown run just 4 minutes later. New England had the momentum as they took a 14-7 lead over the Titans. They still had more left in the tank before halftime though. When New England got the ball back again, another score happened. This one went to Chris Hogan, who had played just one game since week 8. The Patriots were able to get the ball back again, and they got into deep field goal range.

Many were outraged that the game clock seemed to have stalled on 1 second, allowing the Patriots time to take a timeout to even attempt the field goal. The same thing had happened in the earlier game in Philadelphia, with Atlanta fans claiming it was home cooking. Of course, Patriots haters and Titans fans believed it was a bit of home cooking too. Even CBS announcer Tony Romo questioned it. Here’s what former head of NFL referee’s Mike Pereira had to say about it during the Philly game.

All of the home cooking thinkers can just stop now, right?

Ultimately, Stephen Gostkowski missed the 53-yard field goal and the score was 21-7 Patriots at halftime.

The second half was much more low-scoring but was every bit as exciting. New England shut down Tennessee on their opening drive of the half, and then promptly took over again. As Dion Lewis and James White were having great games, of course, Bill Belichick had to turn to Brandon Bolden. He made a few nice runs on the drive, including an untouched 2-yarder to put the Patriots up by 21. That was the only score of the quarter as Tennessee failed to move the ball at all, ad New England began to slow things down a bit to eat up some clock.

In the 4th quarter, Kevin Byard, who wanted to “make Tom Brady look like Blake Bortles”, was destroyed by Rob Gronkowski on a touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. New England was now in control 35-7.

The Patriots defense allowed the Titans to get in with a garbage time score, but by that point, it didn’t matter at all. New England won the game easily, 35-14, to advance to another AFC Championship Game. Now, they just have to await the results from Sunday’s Jaguars-Steelers games to find out who is heading to Foxboro next week.

Defense Shines

More from Chowder and Champions

New England’s defense looked shaky in the first quarter, but they certainly clamped down for the rest of the game. The Patriots were able to pressure Titans QB Marcus Mariota all night long, and especially in the second half. They finished the night with 8 total sacks, compared to the 0 that Brady took.

Geneo Grissom and Deatrich Wise both finished with 2 sacks each, while Adam Butler, Marquis Flowers, Trey Flowers, and Ricky Jean-Francois all recorded one of their own.

The defense did not stop there though. While Malcolm Butler struggled a bit, allowing both Tennessee touchdowns, the other players in the secondary were almost perfect. Stephon Gilmore looked like a true #1 corner as he did not allow a reception when he was targeted all night, and Eric Rowe came up with a couple of clutch tackles to prevent Tennessee first downs.

New England’s stingy D allowed Marcus Mariota to throw for just 254 yards, and running back Derrick Henry was a non-factor with 28 yards on 12 carries. Henry was clearly the Titans best weapon heading into this game, but players like James Harrison were able to set the edge and not allow him outside for big plays. It’s time that this defense starts to get some credit, as they look like they can hang with any remaining team in the NFL playoffs.

Next: 10 greatest Patriots defenders of all-time

Divisional Round Stats

  • Tom Brady: 35 of 53, 337 yards, 3 touchdowns, 102.5 passer rating
  • Danny Amendola: 13 targets, 11 receptions, 112 yards
  • Chris Hogan: 4 targets, 1 reception, 1 touchdown
  • Brandin Cooks: 9 targets, 3 receptions, 32 yards
  • Rob Gronkowski: 9 targets, 6 receptions, 81 yards, 1 touchdown
  • James White: 4 rushes, 11 yards, 1 touchdown, 7 targets, 4 receptions, 29 yards, 1 touchdown
  • Dion Lewis: 15 rushes, 62 yards, 10 targets, 9 receptions, 79 yards
  • Brandon Bolden: 4 rushes, 27 yards, 1 touchdown