FOXBOROUGH, Mass. _ Earlier in the week, left tackle Taylor Lewan said the Tennessee Titans would have to pack their running game and their defense to take on the road with them if they wanted to defeat the New England Patriots.
Saturday night, the Titans unpacked those elements in Gillette Stadium resulting in a stunning 20-13 AFC Wild-Card upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots.
Derrick Henry ran 34 times for 182 yards and a touchdown, and the Tennessee defense, after a shaky start had an impressive second-quarter goal-line stand and then proceeded to shut out Tom Brady and the Patriots in the second half.
The victory advances the Titans (10-7) into the AFC Divisional Round next Saturday against the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens.
Henry said the Titans were ready for a street fight type game and imposed their style of football on the Patriots.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew it was going to be muddy. We just had the mindset not to give up and to keep playing in all three phases,” said Henry, who had 106 of his yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the first half.
The Titans wound up needing everything Henry and the defense could give them, because the Patriots made it a point to shut down Tennessee’s passing attack. Ryan Tannehill, who was coming off being the AFC Player of the Month in December, completed just 8 of 15 passes for 72 yards with one touchdown and one interception. But it gave him his first win ever at Gillette Stadium as well in his first postseason start.
Saturday night’s Titans win was also the franchise’s first in Gillette Stadium since moving to Tennessee in 1997.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said running the football with Henry was how the Titans drew up their game plan.
“He certainly did (run well), and that has to be the formula when we look at things. To be able to run the football and stop the run was huge. … It takes all 11 to run the football, but Derrick is a huge part of that,” Vrabel said.
After the Titans defense surrendered a field goal on the opening drive, Tennessee answered with a TD drive for a7-3 lead. Tannehill found tight end Anthony Firkser for a 12-yard touchdown pass to cap a 75-yard drive.
However, the Titans defense yielded another touchdown on the second series, and it looked as though it might be a tough night defensively.
But Dean Pees’ group rallied and turned the tide in the game with the Titans trailing 10-7 and the Patriots driving for more.
New England had first-and-goal at the Titans 1 after Sony Michel ran 12 yards to the shadow of the goal line. But on first down, Rashaan Evans stuffed Michel for a 1-yard loss. Rex Burkhead was stopped for a 1-yard gain on second down and Evans again threw Michel for a loss on third down, forcing the Patriots to kick a field goal and settle for a 13-7 lead.
It would be the last points Brady and the Patriots would get all night.
“The defensive line set their line back for me to be able to make plays,” Evans said. “As a whole, we just came up big in that opportunity. We know if they score (a touchdown), it’s a totally different game. It’s one of those situations where we knew we had to hold them to have an opportunity to win the game.”
The Titans answered on the ensuing series with another 75-yard march, again with Henry doing the bulk of the work on the ground. The running back said the type of game that played out was exactly what the Titans wanted.
“That’s the way we like it. We don’t want it easy. We want it gritty. We want it dirty. That’s the mentality we’ve got to have,” Henry said.
Henry scored from a yard out to cap the drive and give the Titans the lead, 14-13, at halftime.
Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick admitted that the Titans had come what they had set out to do game-plan wise.
“They do a good job on the running game,” Belichick said. “They’ve got a good offensive line. He’s a good back. You’ve got to defeat blocks and tackle them. That’s what the game is against them.”
The second half was indeed a defensive struggle for both teams, as the Titans played a field position game, even using a loophole in the rules by taking two straight penalties on a fourth down to eclipse more than a minute off the clock.
When Brett Kern’s 58-yard punt was downed at the 1 by Dane Cruikshank with 25 seconds left, the Titans were on their way to a win.
It was sealed when former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, who earlier in the game had dropped a potential pick-six interception, snatched Brady’s pass in the flat and took it back 9 yards for an insurance Titans TD.
The sixth-seeded Titans have dethroned the Patriots and now will face the Ravens and likely league MVP Lamar Jackson in the divisional round.
“We know who Baltimore is and what type of team they are,” Henry said. “We’ll get ready for them tomorrow. We know exactly what we’re facing. We know what type of team they are – they’re the No. 1 team in the (conference), so it’s self-explanatory.”
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