Patriots once again take trip down easy street
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots are going to the AFC Championship game for the seventh consecutive season. The Flying Elvises shook off a cold front and some recent controversy Saturday night, toying with the pathetic Tennessee Titans, 35-14, in a divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
Say it loud and proud: Dilly-dilly to the Double Bye Week.
For those keeping score at home, this will be the 12th AFC Championship game of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. Next Sunday afternoon, the Pats will host the winner of Sunday’s Jaguars-Steelers game.
“We look forward to playing next week,’’ said Belichick.
Seven straight AFC Championship games is a truly amazing run and no one can take anything away from the Patriots’ accomplishments. It is unlikely there will ever be anything like this again in professional football. These Patriots are one victory away from playing in the eighth Super Bowl of the Belichick-Brady era, and have a chance to tie the Steelers in the NFL record book if they can win a sixth Super Bowl in Minneapolis next month.
All that said, let’s take a moment to salute the Titans for demonstrating the Full Monty of Suck in their biggest game in nine seasons. The Titans were exactly who we thought they were. They were bad and stupid. They punted when they should have gone for a first down. They went for a first down when they should have punted. They employed a defensive scheme that looked like it was designed by Brady.
The Titans never laid a finger on the Warrior Spirit, allowing Brady to pick them apart with surgical precision. New England scored 35 straight points. Brady completed 21 of 31 passes for 206 yards before intermission. Tennessee played straight coverage and could not keep up when New England shifted into its up-tempo offense. Brady (35 for 53, 337 yards, three TDs, no picks) had a field day throwing to his backs, making the game look like an afternoon of touch football at the Kennedy compound.
“We did what we wanted to do,” admitted Belichick.
It was 28-7 at the end of three and 35-7 when Brady threw a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski early in the fourth. Belichick never stopped coaching. Leading 35-7, he threw a challenge flag with 4:25 remaining.
How good was New England’s defense? Good enough to inspire a Tweet from one Bill Russell, who wrote, in part, “Patriots nice defense & I know defense . . .”
But even by the low standards of recent divisional round playoff competition (2011 Broncos, 2013 Colts, 2016 Texans) the Titans were bad. Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey will probably be fired this week and it was suggested by many that Tennessee should have hired New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at halftime of Saturday’s rout.
It needs to be said that the NFL officials were once again kind to the Patriots. The Titans were flagged 10 times, six times in the first half including a devastating neutral-zone infraction reversal that transformed a New England three-and-out into a 91-yard touchdown drive. The Pats don’t need this kind of help, but have gotten it all year long. It had to have been demoralizing for the Titans, who were utterly disrespected by just about everyone in the week leading up to the game.
New England’s hideously easy win should set up a dream matchup with the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. The Steelers went 13-3 in 2017, same as the Patriots. Pittsburgh coughed up the top seed when the Steelers lost their collective minds in the closing seconds of a December home loss to the Patriots.
Remember that game, Pats fans? The Steelers appeared to have won on a Ben Roethlisberger TD pass to Jesse James, but the scoring play was overturned when officials in New York ruled that James’s catch “did not survive the ground.’’ Still able to force overtime with an easy field goal, the Steelers panicked and came away with nothing. That’s why they will have to travel to Gillette if they win on Sunday.
But . . . given that these are the Patriots and given that the Jaguars would be easier to beat than the Steelers, I’d look for the Jags to upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday. It’s like Pete Carroll going for the slant pass and Atlanta panicking when ahead, 28-3, and James not surviving the ground. Whatever is easiest for the Patriots is what will happen.
It certainly happened with New England’s fortuitous draw of Tennessee after wild-card weekend. We all know the Chiefs had a remote chance to at least compete in Foxborough. The Titans? Not so much. They went the route of so many others who lose all football acumen and ability at the sight of Belichick and Brady.
So don’t be surprised if it’s the Jags next week instead of the Steelers and don’t be surprised if it’s the wounded Eagles with backup quarterback Nick Foles in the Super Bowl next month. That’s just the way it goes for the Patriots.
The Pats win. And they win easily. They make it so you can drive home at halftime.
Are you not entertained?