|New England Patriots||3||10||0||0||13|
If I told you that this game would be characterized by a dominant Patriots pass defense that was vulnerable to the run, an anemic Patriots offense that just could not get anything going this game, and an approximately or actually tied score at halftime, would you believe me? Well, the joke is on you! This game WAS different! The Patriots offense started off strong this game and acquired an early lead. And then became anemic sludge in the second half. That’s totally different. But let us start at the beginning.
The Titans began the season with a 2-4 record. Their whole season turned around when genuinely good person Marcus Mariota was benched in favor of Dolphins castoff Ryan Tannehill. Starting in Week 10, Derrick Henry popped off. By the time the playoffs rolled around, the Titans were one of the hottest teams in the league. The Patriots had lost three out of five and it might be the first time under Belichick that the Patriots had a losing record in December. There is also a possibility that Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel held some kind of grudge after the snarky 34-10 trophy given to him this preseason and badly desired this revenge game, or something like that. Winning in Foxborough is still one of the toughest feats (even though KC and Miami both did it this year), but Vrabel has nearly a decade of experience with winning in New England and won three Super Bowls in Foxborough. He would know better than almost any other coach how to do it.
In their first two offensive drives, the Patriots resembled their best performance of the year. They picked up first downs and kept moving the ball all the way to the end zone. The Titans were no slouches either and bracketed a pair of three-and-outs with touchdown drives defined by Derrick Henry gashing the Patriots defense over and over. By halftime, the Titans held a lead of one single point, 14-13.
Neither offense would score again for the rest of the game. The Patriots would only cross midfield once more, and that was only due to a Tannehill interception. Instead of trying to push the score, Vrabel chose to burn the clock away with Henry. He limited opportunities for the Patriots defense to force a turnover and kept the ball in Derrick Henry’s hands for the vast majority of the second half. Vrabel would also mimic Belichick’s Week 7 punt shenanigans and burn two minutes of clock time on a single play.
Brady got the ball back with no timeouts and half a minute remaining. Even the king of fourth quarter comebacks could not pull this one off,
and the clock expired resulting in a 14-13 defeat former Patriot Logan Ryan picked off Brady in the final seconds and scored it, resulting in a 20-14 Titans victory. The Patriots were knocked out of the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 AFC Championship game and lost in the wildcard round for the first time since 2009, the last time they played in it.
Much postgame talk was about Henry’s 182 yards of rushing. Some saw it as a type of defensive failure. But the Titans had only 31 minutes of possession and 14 offensive points scored. Had the Patriots won this game, people would sing Belichick’s praises for such a clever defensive gameplan. Instead, it is when the Patriots punted on 4th & 4 with only three minutes remaining in the game that should be harshly criticized. It did not matter if the fourth down play failed. Based on the game time, the Patriots needed to force a three-and-out on defense regardless as to whether the drive began at the Titans 10-yard line or Patriots 40 (Read: Punting vs. Failed 4th down conversion). The Titans got a single first down and ran the clock down to half a minute.
The Titans, to their credit, would win their divisional round matchup against the Baltimore Ravens too. Perhaps the Ravens and their fans got a little too confident before the game and did not prepare. Or perhaps it was an injury to Ingram that sunk Baltimore’s offense. The Titans fell to the eventual Super Bowl Champions Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship.