FOXBORO, Mass. _ The Titans showed some grit early, but eventually the New England Patriots took control and overpowered Tennessee for a 35-14 victory at Gillette Stadium Saturday night in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
The Titans took a 7-0 lead and hung with the Patriots for much of the first half, but by game’s end that was a distant memory. And the end result was a bad one at that for the Titans.
“(I’m) embarrassed. You don’t play to come and lose in the divisional playoff. You play to go win the whole thing, and we didn’t execute, didn’t make plays and they did,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “Yeah, it’s nice to be in the playoffs, but you don’t play just to get in.”
Mariota was 22 of 37 for 254 yards and two scores, but the Titans just did not perform consistently enough in any phase to hold their own for very long against the Patriots. Mariota also played with a quad injury suffered in the first quarter, which likely played a role in him being sacked eight times.
The Titans’ offense eventually stalled and – with the help of a couple of questionable calls in the second quarter – New England took control of the game and never looked back scoring 35 unanswered points in rolling up 31 first downs and cruising into the AFC Championship Game.
Tennessee’s offense looked good in the first quarter, as it went 95 yards in 11 plays to get on the scoreboard first. Marcus Mariota directed the march with both his arm and his legs, capping it by threading the needle to Corey Davis for a 15-yard touchdown early in the game.
From there, though, it was all Tom Brady and the Patriots who dominated the contest, as expected. Brady scorched the Titans for 337 yards and three touchdown passes on 35 of 53 passes.
The Patriots quickly answered the Titans’ touchdown drive with one of their own, a 5-yard shovel pass from Brady to James White.
Then, after an offensive pass interference call on Eric Decker negated a Titans first down, the Patriots took advantage of the questionable call and drove 73 yards in seven plays to take the lead for good. White scored on a six-yard run for his second TD of the game.
Another questionable call – an encroachment call on special teamer Brynden Trawick, that was changed after a false start initially was called on the Patriots – gave New England new life, and Brady quickly took advantage. Brady found Chris Hogan for a 4-yard touchdown and a commanding 21-7 lead that stood up at the half.
“You can’t make mistakes against a really good team. They’re waiting on you to do it, and we did. We accommodated them. We made a lot of mistakes and we couldn’t get off the field defensively,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.
The Titans got the ball needing points to start the second half, but ended up going three-and-out, and soon the rout was on.
Brady directed two more scores and New England dominated en route to reaching the AFC Championship Game for the seventh consecutive season. The Patriots will host either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Jacksonville Jaguars.
With the game in hand for New England, the Titans got a consolation touchdown with 1:55 left when Mariota found Davis again, this time from 11 yards to account for the final margin.
The Titans end the season 10-8 after bowing out in the divisional round,
“You want it to be a special, magical season, but the way it ended tonight, it wasn’t magical at all,” tackle Taylor Lewan said.
Still, the Titans made strides in 2017 in reaching the posteason for the first time since 2008 and winning a playoff game for the first time since 2003.
“This Titans team has come so far. We used to be the armpit of the NFL. But we’ve come a long way and accomplished a lot of goals,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said.