Patriots rout Titans to reach AFC championship game, 35-14

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots started slowly, then overwhelmed the Tennessee Titans to advance to the AFC championship game for the seventh consecutive year.

Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to three players, James White scored two touchdowns and the Patriots’ defense sacked Marcus Mariota a franchise playoff record eight times as New England defeated Tennessee 35-14 in an AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots trailed 7-0 after one quarter but owned the final three quarters, scoring 35 consecutive points after going to a no-huddle offense to keep the Titans off-balance.

The Patriots advanced to the AFC championship game for the 14th time and will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars. New England, the defending Super Bowl champion, is 9-4 in its history in the AFC title game. The Patriots are 3-3 in their current streak of championship-game appearances, all three of the wins at Gillette.

Brady was magnificent, completing 35 of 53 passes for 337 yards. His three touchdown passes, to James White, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski, set an NFL record. It was his 10th playoff game with three or more touchdown passes, breaking a tie with his idol, Joe Montana.

It was a total effort offensively. Dion Lewis rushed for 62 yards and caught nine passes (on 10 targets) for another 79. Danny Amendola caught 11 passes (on 13 targets) for a playoff career-high 112 yards. Gronkowski caught six passes for 81 yards.

Defensively, the Patriots held Derrick Henry to just 28 rushing yards (nine less than Mariota) and sacked Mariota seven times in the second half, two each by Deatrich Wise Jr., and Geneo Grissom.

New England got three sacks in the first two Tennessee possessions of the second half. Ricky Jean Francois and Marquis Flowers had back-to-back 8-yard sacks, setting up a third-and-31 from the Tennessee 2. The Titans, of course, punted and the Patriots quickly moved in for the clinching touchdown, a 2-yard run by seldom-used Brandon Bolden.

The Patriots dominated the second quarter to lead 21-7 at the half as White scored two touchdowns and Brady threw two touchdown passes.

Trailing 7-0, the Patriots shifted to a no-huddle offense that the Titans couldn’t handle. New England went 73 yards in seven plays, the big one a 31-yard pass from Brady to Lewis, and scored on a 5-yard shovel pass to White, who took the flip from Brady and raced in around left end.

After forcing a three-and-out (aided by a questionable offensive pass interference call against Eric Decker), the Patriots went 48 yards in six plays to take the lead. This time White ran around left end from 6 yards out. Stephen Gostkowski’s PAT made it 14-7 with 9:20 left in the second.

The Patriots forced another Tennessee punt, this time Eric Rowe making a nice tackle on third down to stop the drive, and the Patriots took over at their 9. No matter. Sixteen plays and 91 yards later it was 21-7.

This touchdown came on a 4-yard pass from Brady to Hogan, who was playing after missing the last three games – and seven of the last eight – with a shoulder injury. Hogan lined up in the right slot, then cut across the back of the end zone, where Brady found him. Gostkowski made it 21-7.

The Patriots had one last chance to score in the second quarter, after stopping the Titans on fourth-and-1 at midfield. But Gostkowski’s 53-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.

The Patriots stumbled out of the blocks and trailed at the end of the first quarter, 7-0. Tennessee’s defense throttled the New England offense and the Titans found holes in the Patriots’ secondary.

The score came on a magnificent throw by Mariota and a better catch by Corey Davis, who beat Malcolm Butler on the left sideline into the end zone. Mariota lofted a high pass into the back corner and Davis made a one-handed catch with his left hand to secure the touchdown with 1:14 left in the first quarter.

Source: Portland pressPatriots rout Titans to reach AFC championship game, 35-14