Patriots

Five quick thoughts: Patriots make quick work of Titans

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots make quick work of Titans

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick thoughts from the Patriots' 35-14 romp over the Titans during their Saturday night Divisional Round boogie down at Gillette Stadium . . .  

PATRIOTS 35, TITANS 14

1) The Patriots took advantage of the Titans by turning to "space plays" time and time again. Because Tennessee's second-level defenders aren't all that quick, and because the Titans in general aren't great tacklers, the Patriots seemed to be intent on stretching their opponents horizontally to give them some one-on-one matchups in space. If they could force a missed tackle or two, they'd end up with chunk gains? The results of that approach paid dividends in the first half. On the first play of the game, Brady hit Danny Amendola on a quick-hitter for six yards. Dion Lewis caught a 31-yard screen, putting his skills to use in the open field. James White's touchdown catch -- a little flip from Brady -- was an end-around play that stressed the edges of the Titans defense. Brady hit Cooks short on the sideline for a long gainer after he ran by Adoree Jackson's horrendous tackle attempt. 

2) The Patriots had breakdowns on multiple levels during Tennessee's first touchdown drive of the game. The Patriots came into the game knowing they'd have to stop the run. They also knew that they'd have to contain Marcus Mariota and keep him in the pocket. What happened on the second Titans drive of the game was that Mariota broke free for two key first-down runs and 22 yards combined. Then, when the Patriots were able to keep Mariota in the pocket and dare him to throw, they lost their matchups in coverage too often. Delanie Walker broke free for a 36-yard gain on a coverage bust. Rishard Matthews picked up a key third down. And Corey Davis hauled in a nifty one-handed touchdown off a stop-and-go move with Malcolm Butler on him in coverage. If they Patriots were going to let Mariota try to beat them from the pocket, they had to be better on the back end. 

3) Chris Hogan made his presence felt in the first half. He caught just one pass for four yards on three targets, but his catch was a four-yard touchdown and it served as an example of how he and Tom Brady see things through the same set of eyes. Running his route across the field, he saw an opening to the back left corner of the end zone and made a beeline. With Rob Gronkowski smothered despite a pick-play combination with James White, and with White doubled at the goal line, Hogan was wide open. On the previous play, Brandin Cooks read his defender's leverage incorrectly on the back end line. Brady threw to where Cooks should've been, and the pass fell incomplete. To have Hogan -- who also threw a vicious block on Wesley Woodyard during a Dion Lewis catch-and-run -- back in the fold clearly gives Brady an option he trusts. 

4) Why would the Patriots receive after winning the coin toss before the opening kick? Don't they always defer for the double-score opportunity at the end of the first half and the start of the second? Look no further than the flags atop the goal posts. With the wind playing a very real factor on Saturday night, Bill Belichick wanted to be able to decide which way his team would be headed when they had the football in the fourth quarter. By taking the football in the first quarter, they would be able to choose their direction at the start of the third. Predictably, when the start of the second half came around, the Patriots chose to defend the closed end of the stadium. That meant that in the fourth quarter, their offensive drives were moving away from the lighthouse end of the stadium. Kicking (and throwing) is typically a little bit easier when headed away from the lighthouse. 

5) The Patriots defense grabbed this game by the throat about midway through the third quarter. First Ricky Jean Francois (who got the nod to play in this one over Alan Branch) beat guard Quinton Spain clean for a first-down sack. After the play, Spain complained to left tackle Taylor Lewan that he should've had help. On the next snap, Lewan quickly looked to his left and saw Marquis Flowers hanging out. Flowers had been a Mariota spy for much of the game to that point, and so Lewan likely didn't see a rush threat. As a result, Lewan turned to his right and helped Spain -- the guy who had just been whining. As soon as Lewan took his eyes off of Flowers, the Patriots linebacker rushed and hit Mariota unimpeded for a second straight sack. Lewan never had a shot. That's what he gets for trying to be a good teammate.

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EX PATS PODCAST: Recapping Patriots win in AFC title game over Jags

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EX PATS PODCAST: Recapping Patriots win in AFC title game over Jags

1:45 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen break down the Patriots comeback win over Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LII.

4:20 - Leonard Fournette not looking like himself but Blake Bortles making the right plays against the Patriots defense.

7:40 - A couple of mistakes from the Jaguars, punting before 2 minute warning which gave the Patriots an extra timeout, and kneeling at the end of the 1st half with 2 timeouts and 50 seconds remaining.

12:10 - Dion Lewis struggling to find room and make anyone miss against the Jaguars defense.

13:20 - How serious Tom Brady's thumb injury was and if it had any affect on how he was able to throw the ball.

16:05 - Brandin Cooks has his best game as a Patriot, and how he was able to draw two pass interference penalties against the Jaguars secondary.

18:45 - If the hit by Barry Church on Rob Gronkowski was a dirty hit and if it is better to hit a receiver up high or down low.

24:25 - Danny Amendola with several clutch catches, once again coming back big in the postseason for the Patriots.

Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

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Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

FOXBORO -- You’ve always wanted something more from Brandin Cooks. I mean, 65 catches for almost 11-hundred yards is nothing to turn your nose up at yet we have.  But there’s something very un-Patriot like about his style.

We’ve grown accustom to seeing smaller receivers who fight for every inch, from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They would scrap and claw to get that extra yard, sometimes risking their own health. Cooks isn’t that guy, despite a similar build of the aforementioned players. He’s a willing blocker, but as a runner will go out of his way to avoid contact. I wouldn’t say that changed in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. He’s still not running slants or crossing routes with any regularity or success, but the 23-year-old wide receiver shined his brightest in his biggest moment and is now headed to the Super Bowl.

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“It’ s a blessing,” he said pausing briefly before repeating “It’s a blessing.”

Cooks himself helped kick start a sluggish Patriots offense late in the second quarter with his team trailing 14-3. Almost nothing had gone right for the Pats since putting up a field goal on the game’s opening drive. With 1:28 on the clock, Tom Brady threw a pretty pass to Rob Gronkowski running down the seam. He appeared to make the catch for a brief moment before safety Barry Church knocked both the ball from Gronk’s hands and Gronk from the game. Church was flagged for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball on Jacksonville’s 40 yard line. But with Gronk staggering toward the sideline, you couldn’t help but feel a slight air of “oh bleep” in the air. Enter Cooks. 

Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye appeared as if he was going to get up in Cooks’ face before backing away just prior to the snap, surrendering some 8 or 9 yards off the line of scrimmage. But with that elite speed, Cooks got on top of Bouye quickly, forcing some contact. Instead of whimpering through the physicality, Cooks pushed back and pushed forward, again causing Bouye to use his hands. This time though the ball was already in the air and out came the penalty flags. A 32-yard pass interference call had the Pats sitting pretty at the Jags 13. Brady went back to Cooks on the very next play, picking up 12 more yards before James White crashed into the end zone for a touchdown. We had ourselves a game again, 

“You just gotta keep fighting {in those moments} because you can never put it into the hands of hoping you’re going to get a PI {pass interference},” said Cooks. “You just want to fight an make sure you get the ball or no one does.”

After his flawless first half, Cooks let one slip through his hands just as it appeared the Pats were poised to answer a Jacksonville field goal with points of their own. Instead, isolated one-on-one with a linebacker, the lithe wideout couldn’t reel in a potential big gainer and the Pats drive stalled. As the game wore on, you couldn’t help but circle back to that drop and wonder if that was an ominous sign. 

“Obviously you want to make every catch,” said Cooks of the play. “I didn’t but had to keep playing. I hoped I’d work to get another chance….Tom trusts me to put the ball in my area and let me make a play.”

It came to start the Pats’ second touchdown drive of the game, this one not beginning until 12:03 remaining on the game clock. Cooks’ speed forced Bouye to overreact, turning his hips and committing to a deep route. Instead, Cooks’ slapped on the brakes and hauled in an 18-yarder, giving him the first 100-yard receiving game of his brief playoff career. 

“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Cooks. “Winning is everything.”

Cooks didn’t make any more catches the remainder of the game, but his speed influenced the Jags to switch Bouye off him and put Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey on. Cooks got Ramsey too, drawing a 36-yard pass interference call later in the 4th. It didn’t lead to points but did help flip the field which eventually did lead the game-winning touchdown.

“It’s football,” he said. “We knew it’s not going to be easy. You’re talking about a great team, one of the best defenses. We knew it was gonna be hard. We knew we had to play 60 minutes of football. Not get too high. Not get too low. Just play till the clock says 0:00.”

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