To hear most analysts tell it, the Tennessee Titans are wasting their time with a trip to Foxboro this weekend, with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on the agenda.
It is certainly a tall order, facing Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the Patriots, who have been perennial Super Bowl contenders for nearly two decades.
The upstart Titans, who are 13.5-point underdogs coming in, figure to be playing with little to lose. But their approach is to go in and find a way to get the job done in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, despite the long odds and loads of doubters.
“We’re going up there to win. That’s our mentality. We’re not thinking about anything else but a win,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “The biggest thing is we’ve been trying to come together at the right time of the season and play great football. So why not right now? We’ve put a couple of victories together in a row, so we’re just trying to continue to get better and better.”
So, what will the Titans have to do in order to shock the world and the Patriots on Saturday night?
1. Keep rolling with Marcus. Marcus Mariota seems to have found his mojo that was missing for much of the season. His second-half play against the Chiefs showed that he can be a big-game player in big-game situations. If he can keep the Titans in this one, and not make critical mistakes, then he will make believers out of the remaining doubters.
2. Run, run and run some more. Derrick Henry had a breakout game against the Chiefs, rushing for 156 yards and playing much better than he did vs. Jacksonville in his first start. The Patriots defense gives up yards, but they are stingy in the red zone. The Titans need Henry to be a force inside the 20, so the Titans can cap drives with touchdowns.
3. Pressure Brady and be physical. This is much easier said than done, but the Titans have to get pressure on Tom Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Brady is still arguably the greatest QB of all time, but he is still 40 years old and a hard physical play probably takes much more of a toll on than it did when he was 25.
4. Contain Gronk. OK, another tough assignment here. But the Titans have to do a better job on Rob Gronkowski than they did on KC’s Travis Kelce. In fact, when Kelce exited with a concussion, the Titans were able to take advantage and shut the Chiefs down in the second half. Whether it is Kevin Byard, Johnathan Cyprien, Jayon Brown or double teams to slow down the Patriots star tight end, Tennessee cannot let Gronkowski run wild on them.
5. Let it all hang out. As mentioned above, the Titans are sort of playing with house money, and no one expects them to win. That means letting out all the stops and holding nothing back in an effort to punch the Patriots in the mouth and catch them off guard with some plays that maybe haven’t been seen in a while. Are you listening, Terry Robiskie?