FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Tennessee Titans talked all week about how they wanted an opportunity to show they could hang with the AFC elite. Saturday night, we learned they aren’t there yet.
The Patriots were the better team in every department Saturday — coaching, offense and defense — in their 35-14 win. Tennessee winning its first playoff game since the 2003 season was a good takeaway from the season, but there still remains a sizable gap between them and the AFC elite. The Titans might not be as close to being true contenders as they had hoped.
New England shut down Tennessee after the Titans scored the first touchdown of the game. Tom Brady was vintage, picking apart the holes in the Titans defense. A front-seven that needed to step up and make Brady uncomfortable was extremely disappointing, barely touching him and failing to register a sack.
On a day where several Titans needed to play their best football ever to pull an upset, none of them — outside of rookie Corey Davis, who scored his first two career TDs — played particularly well. The final result was a club that was outclassed by the Patriots.
It’s a bittersweet end to the season for the Titans. They made playoff progress, but there is an apparent need for chance in offensive scheme if this team ever hopes to be championship contenders.
The Titans believed Marcus Mariota would give them a chance to shock the world, but his teammates and coaches didn’t do a ton to help him out. Plus, Mariota lacked the juice he had in Kansas City to make splash plays.
Rookie Taywan Taylor dropped two passes that could have led to points and momentum to end the half. Mike Mularkey completely botched the clock management at the end of the first half, costing the Titans potential points.
Once seen as the Titans’ biggest strength, Tennessee’s offensive line let the Titans down Saturday and too many times throughout the season. Mariota was sacked a career-high eight times Saturday. Yes, losing Jack Conklin hurt, but that’s unacceptable for this bunch. It’s a group that will need to be upgraded in the offseason.
Mularkey has galvanized the Titans late in the season, but he and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie also must be held responsible for the team’s offensive struggles. These issues have been apparent all season and hit with a major thud Saturday night. Tennessee had just 267 total yards, with only 99 coming after halftime and 80 of those coming in a garbage-time final touchdown drive.
Derrick Henry looked a lot more like the tiptoeing running back we saw in Week 17 vs. Jacksonville than the downhill bruiser that tantalized the NFL after rushing for 156 yards against the Chiefs. He finished with 12 carries for 28 yards, outrushed by Mariota. That won’t cut it going forward. The Patriots schemed to take him away, and it worked. Just about everything New England did Saturday worked, with little counter from Tennessee.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels outschemed Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau by slowly chipping away at the Titans pass defense with a combination of Dion Lewis and James White on screens and sweeps, Rob Gronkowski rummaging through the middle and Danny Amendola taking advantage of open shallow zones.
Yes, the Titans were victims of one poor and another shaky-at-best call by the officials during the first half. That wasn’t the reason they lost Saturday, though. This blowout loss was because they aren’t yet in the Patriots’ league.
Next Sunday night, we’ll watch New England host Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship for second consecutive season. The Titans must realize that status quo won’t lift them to breaking up that power duo. The gap is bigger than they might have hoped, but it’s not to large to where it can’t eventually close.