Tennessee Titans 14 New England Patriots 35
Next week, the season truly begins for the New England Patriots. Nowadays, it is a foregone conclusion that the Patriots make it to the AFC Championship Game and this year, they coasted through the divisional round in style, destroying the Titans 35-14.
This game never felt close. It never was close and was never going to be. What are the Titans good at? Not much apart from running the rock. They are a solid team who don’t really excel at doing anything, even Marcus Mariota was having his worst year of his career from a statistical standpoint. Derrick Henry was the only player on the Titans who could have possibly been a huge factor in this game for them. He was their best chance. Their only chance. Exactly how the Patriots like it. Going into Foxboro, in January with only one way of winning? It was always going to end how it did. Mariota was forced to throw the ball 37 times as Derrick Henry was only allowed to run the ball twelve times and did so for only 28 yards with a long of 4 yards. Yes, former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry was limited by a below average Patriots D-line for only 28 yards and a long of 4.
That was the best part of watching this game (apart from Dion Lewis but we’ll get to him later), the defensive line finally showed up. Not only were they brilliant at stopping the run, but they also had their best game rushing the passer. The Patriots pass rush demolished Mariota for 8 sacks on the day, costing the Titans offense 52 yards in the process. Six different Patriots registered sacks in this game, including Deatrich Wise Jr. and Geneo Grissom who both registered two sacks apiece.
The Patriots’ offense was also a delight to watch so let’s talk about my main man Dion Lewis.
Every time I write my game reviews for @GridironGravy, I have to force myself to not just write a love letter to Dion Lewis every week. I love him so much.
— Mark Harrison 🇪🇺 (@MarkIHarrison) January 14, 2018
Lewis is perhaps my favourite Patriot right now. He’s clearly shown that he is the best running back in New England and despite some unfortunate injuries over the past few years, he’s back here now for what I hope to be a career defining playoff run for the running back. Against the Titans, Lewis ran for 62 yards on 15 carries (4.1 YPC, 10 long) and caught 9 passes off 10 targets for 79 yards. Lewis doesn’t need to find the endzone to be effective as a running back. With Burkhead, White, Bolden, and Gillislee; there is more than enough depth to lighten the load for Lewis who is a threat on any down in any situation. His movement is incredible and he makes defenders look silly as they try to tackle him. His elusiveness makes him one of my favourite players to watch in the entire league.
Lewis wasn’t the only member of the offense which excelled, Tom Brady went 35/53 for 337 yards, 3 TDs and a 102.5 passer rating. Danny Amendola continued his career trajectory of being a solid regular season receiver and then turning into an otherworldly talent once the playoffs arrive as he had 11 receptions on 13 targets for 112 yards. The offense as a whole was able to accumulate 31 first downs over the course of the game and only committed four penalties for a total of 37 yards. Considering the Patriots will now go on to face a feisty Jags team, it’s good to see that there is a considerable amount of discipline in this team at this time of year, something that was severely lacking early on in the season.
So next week, at around 8pm GMT, the Patriots will be in Foxboro taking on the #3 seed Jacksonville Jaguars for the right to represent the AFC in the Superbowl. This is a worst case scenario for the Patriots. I think it is easy to see by this point that the Pats have the Steelers’ number, especially when playing in Foxboro. Jacksonville however, is new to the dance. They have similar characteristics to the 2015 Broncos, with the speed of last year’s Falcons defence, showing off elite defence paired with a strong running game. Jacksonville is able to create pressure up the middle whilst only rushing four, something which Brady tends to struggle with. The only flaws with the Jags as a team comes down to their consistency and the quarterback play. As we’ve seen throughout the season, the Jags have lost to some subpar opponents, including the 49ers (although they had Jimmy G and he is a God) and they were swept by the Titans, who just got demolished. At this point, we know who Blake Bortles is. If you give him too much to do, he’s going to lose the game all on his own. However, if the run game is established early and Fournette is running well, Bortles has been known to have games where he limits mistakes and makes some pretty throws.
The ceiling for the Jaguars is that they could roll into New England and demolish the Patriots, however, their floor is very low. If the Patriots can stop Fournette the same way they did and force Bortles to throw over 30 passes they should give the offense a shot.
With two shutdown corners in AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey (potential defensive player of the year candidate), Rob Gronkowski is going to be pivotal if Brady is going to influence this game heavily. If I was predicting what the game plan would be, look for a lot of misdirection in the plays in order to get players like Dion Lewis and James White in open space. If we assume Ramsey and Bouye are able to shutdown Cooks and Hogan, look for someone like Danny Amendola in the slot as someone who could do damage as a possession receivers on passes such as quick slants and in routes. Man this Jags defence scares me.