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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Patriots-Jaguars inactives: Patriots without Waddle, rolling with Fleming

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Patriots-Jaguars inactives: Patriots without Waddle, rolling with Fleming

FOXBORO -- This is why you hold onto as many backup tackles as possible. 

The Patriots are down to their No. 3 right tackle, Cam Fleming, in the AFC title game. Yet Fleming's importance to the Patriots plan has barely come up this week. Why? Because he ain't bad. 

Fleming, who will get the starting nod at right tackle with LaAdrian Waddle out due to a knee injury, has started five of New England's last six games and has allowed jut two sacks in that span. Fleming played 35 snaps in the Divisional Round after Waddle was injured, and he did not allow a single quarterback pressure. 

There aren't many teams who could be down to their third right tackle and still have a chance, but the Patriots -- who went out of their way to build up their tackle depth by keeping both Waddle and Fleming for the 53-man roster out of training camp -- might be one. 

The Patriots announced that along with Waddle, Jacob Hoillister, Mike Gillislee, Bernard Reedy, Kenny Britt, David Harris and Alan Branch are all inactive for the AFC title game.

Hollister, a healthy scratch, is an interesting choice in that the Patriots could rely heavily on two-tight end sets against the Jaguars. If they do, they'll have to lean on Dwayne Allen and Rob Gronkowski. 

Alan Branch has said for two weeks that he's healthy enough to play. But the Patriots have opted to suit up Ricky Jean Francois instead of Branch, their biggest defensive tackle. The defensive front will have a lot of responsibility on its hands against the Jaguars, who rely heavily on their running game with big back Leonard Fournette. 

A pair of Patriots who were inactive last week will be in uniform Sunday afternoon: running back Rex Burkhead and corner Johnson Bademosi. With Jonathan Jones out for the season, Bademosi will likely take on the bulk of Jones' special-teams responsibilities. 

Patriots-Jaguars pregame notes

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Patriots-Jaguars pregame notes

The Patriots host the Jaguars today at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship Game. The game begins at 3:05 p.m.

  • Watch Patriots Pregame Live from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with Michael Felger, Charlie Weis, Bert Breer, Troy Brown and DJ Bean in Burlington, and Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi at Gillette.
  • When the game ends, watch Patriots Postgame Live.

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch, or click here for the livestream of the shows (and all NBC Sports Boston programming).

Here's what you need to know about the game . . .

FACTS AND FIGURES

GAME TIME: 3:05 p.m. 

SITE: Gillette Stadium

TEAM RECORDS: Patriots 14-3, Jaguars 12-6

ON TV: CBS

TV ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson and Jay Feely

ON LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub Patriots Radio Network

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak

NATIONAL RADIO: Westwood One

NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Kevin Kugler, Dan Fouts and Ed Werder

ALL-TIME SERIES BETWEEN THE TEAMS: Patriots lead, 10-1

LAST MEETING: Patriots 51, Jaguars 17 on Sept. 27, 2015 at Gillette Stadium

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

-- Tom Brady completed 35 of 53 passes (66 percent) for 337 yards and three touchdowns for a 102.5 passer rating in the Patriots’ 35-14 win against Tennessee in the Divisional Playoffs. He can become the first quarterback in postseason history to record four consecutive games with at least 300 yards and multiple touchdown passes.

-- James White scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) in the Patriots’ win against Tennessee. He also scored three touchdowns in Super Bowl LI, and needs two touchdowns today to tie Emmitt Smith and Larry Fitzgerald for the most combined rushing and receiving touchdowns over a three-game span in postseason history.

-- Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown pass last week and now has 10 career postseason TD receptions, trailing only Jerry Rice (22) and John Stallworth (12). He can tie Stallworth with two today.

-- The Jaguars, who went 3-13 last season, are attempting to become the first team since the 2009 Saints to go from 'worst to first' in their division and qualify for the Super Bowl. (In the NFC title game, the Eagles can accomplish the same feat.) Prior to the Saints, the last team to do so was the 2003 Panthers, whom the Patriots beat in Super Bwl XXXVIII.

-- The Jaguars, who beat the second-seeded Steelers in last week's divisional round, are also attempting to become the 11th team to defeat the top two seeds in their conference en route to the Super Bowl. 

-- Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards in three touchdowns in the Jaguars' 45-42 win in Pittsburgh last week. With one rushing touchdown today, he can tie Jamal Lewis (2000 Ravens), William Floyd (1994 49ers), Tony Dorsett (1977 Cowboys) and Norm Standlee (1941 Bears) for the postseason record for most rushing TDs by a rookie in a single postseason. He can break the record with two.

PATRIOTS VS. JAGUARS

-- The Patriots and Jaguars are meeting in the postseason for the fifth time. New England has won three of the previous four, including the 1996 AFC Championship Game at old Foxboro Stadium, which the Patriots won 20-6 in Bill Parcells' final home game as Patriots coach.

-- In the teams' last postseason meeting, New England improved its season's record to 15-0 by knocking off Jacksonville, 31-20, in the 2007 AFC Divisional Playoffs on Jan. 12, 2008 at Gillette Stadium.

MORE ON THE PATRIOTS

-- New England is the first team since the 1970 merger to play in seven consecutive conference championship games.

-- The Patriots have won nine conference championships, the most in NFL history. New England is 6-1 all-time in AFC Championship Games played at home.

-- Bill Belichick has advanced to 12 conference championship games, the most by a head coach since the 1970 merger.

-- Brady has 26 career playoff wins, the most by any starting quarterback in NFL history. Brady is also the NFL postseason leader in career completions (866), attempts (1,378), passing yards (9,431) and touchdown passes (66).

-- Brady has 13 playoff games with at least 300 passing yards, the most in NFL history. Brady recorded his 10th career postseason game with at least three touchdown passes last week and surpassed Joe Montana for the most all-time.

-- New England won its ninth consecutive division title, the longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots are the only team to win 14 division titles in a 15-year span.

MORE ON THE JAGUARS

-- Jacksonville is the second team since the 1970 merger to advance to the conference championship game after winning three or fewer games in the previous season. The other was the 2006 Saints.

-- The Jaguars led the NFL with seven defensive touchdowns during the regular season and scored on a 50-yard fumble-return touchdown by linebacker Telvin Smith in the divisional round against Pittsburgh.

-- Smith leads the NFL with three defensive touchdowns this season (including the playoffs).

-- Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles has won his first two career playoff starts. In both games, he threw a touchdown pass with no interceptions.

CAN JAGS TURN UP THE HEAT?

-- Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell had a franchise-record 14.5 sacks in the regular season and teammate Yannick Ngakoue added 12 sacks. Against Pittsburgh, Ngakoue had a sack and forced fumble, which led to Smith’s 50-yard fumble-return touchdown.

LOOKING FOR MORE?

-- Click here for additional information about the game.