AFC Playoff Recap: Divisional Round

Tennessee Titans 14
New England Patriots 35

Saturday, January 13 th , 8:15 PM EST.

For one brief moment in the first quarter, Mike Mularkey looked like he might keep his job. Rumors had been swirling that Mularkey was on the hottest of seats, even after getting to the playoffs and winning on Wildcard weekend. Upsetting the uneven Chiefs was one thing, but going into Foxboro and defeating the reigning champs in their own house, after a bye-week, that’s the sort of thing that keeps a coach around for a few years. It looked like it might be a possibility for a whole quarter, too, as the Titans defense stymied the Patriots offense into two consecutive punts, and Marcus Mariota orchestrated an efficient eleven play drive that put the Titans up by seven.

What followed immediately was a glimpse into what makes the Patriots different. It’s not that they have a huge talent, size, or speed advantage over their opponents. They don’t. They just make in-game adjustments better than any team in the history of the sport. The Patriot defense shut down the lanes that had allowed Mariota to escape for two drive-preserving scrambles and clamped down on Derrick Henry (12 rushes for 28 yards). Then they started hitting Marcus Mariota. A lot. Eight sacks for fifty-two yards is a lot to overcome, but with the Patriots on the other sideline, it’s pretty much impossible.

Brady, after an uncharacteristic first quarter without a score, adjusted as well. Instead of going bombs away to Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan, Brady would dissect the Titans with short and intermediate throws to Danny Amendola and running backs James White and Dion Lewis. The trio combined for over two hundred passing yards and two touchdowns, forming the core of each and every Patriots’ drive. New England went on second quarter scoring binge, putting up three touchdowns as part of a thirty-five unanswered point onslaught that left the Titans defense confused and absolutely gassed.

With the game no longer in question, the Titans scored a late TD in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t exactly the Patriots’ finest work of the afternoon. Mariota moved the Titans down the field crisply in a sixteen-play drive that contained two defensive holding penalties. Football games last sixty minutes, and Belichick isn’t one for allowing complacency, or quitting before the final whistle. Something tells me that someone probably had to run laps for allowing that garbage time drive to score.

That, at the most basic level, is what makes New England different. Not that Bill Belichick is surly, obsessive, and hell bent on winning (he is), but that the players and coaches all know this and actively participate in this team as he constructed it. That means changing game plans on a dime if asked. It also means that grown men at the peak of their profession end up running laps like high school sophomores. That’s the Patriot way.


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Tom Capo


Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.



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