FOXBOROUGH — For so long, the Patriots have always won. They’ve always come through. For eight years, they’ve always made it to a conference championship, always taken advantage of a first-round bye. Saturday, in the nightcap of a Wild Card Weekend doubleheader, the veneer of their playoff invicibility was chipped away.
The Patriots were 12 for 12 in the Tom Brady Era scoring touchdowns on first and goal from the 1 in the playoffs. They’d never failed, until the second quarter of a season-ending 20-13 loss against the Titans at Gillette Stadium.
After Mohammed Sanu’s 23-yard punt return to the Titans’ 47, the Patriots drove 46 yards in six plays to the 1, where they ran three times to the left and got stuffed on all three tries before settling for a 13-7 lead on Nick Folk’s 21-yard field goal with 2:18 left.
It was the first time since Nov. 4, 2018, and the second time in four seasons the Patriots failed to score a touchdown when they had a first and goal from the 1-yard line. They had converted eight straight touchdowns on first and goal from the 1 entering the game Saturday night and were 24 of 25 since the start of 2016.
“I wish we could have scored there, but they made the plays when they needed to,” said Brady, who threw a pick-6 to Logan Ryan as the Patriots tried a last-gasp drive from their own 1 with 15 seconds to go.
“We all wish we could do a lot better,” Brady said. “I certainly wish I could do some things better. But we didn’t. It’s a results business.”
On first and goal from the 1, with a goal-line package that included linebacker-turned-fullback Elandon Roberts and Marshall Newhouse as an extra offensive lineman, Brady handed off to Sony Michel, who went off left tackle and was dropped for a 1-yard loss.
With 3:41 remaining in the first half, the Patriots took their first timeout to regroup.
On second and goal, Brady handed off to Rex Burkhead, who gained a yard, forcing the Patriots to take timeout No. 2 with 3:01 left.
On third and goal, with Roberts and Newhouse back in the game, Brady again handed off to Michel, with the same result: no gain.
Michel tried to get around the left side, but Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans cut through the line to drop Michel for a loss of 2 yards.
Evans, the former Alabama linebacker the Titans leapfrogged the Patriots to draft in the first round in 2018, made all three tackles in the sequence.
“Yeah, we were just trying to get to our best play, but I just give them credit,” Brady said.“It was good job executing on defense.”
Before the third-down attempt, it appeared Brady might have switched the play, but Michel said it didn’t happen.
“It’s all about the will to want to, and we fell short,” Michel said.
In any game, it’s never one thing, but that goal-line sequence and the decision to settle for a field goal will be replayed in the minds of fans, players and coaches alike for a while.
After Folk’s kick enabled the Patriots to stretch their lead to 6 points, the Titans answered right before the the half on a 1-yard run by Derrick Henry had gave Tennessee a 14-13 lead.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel opted to work the clock in the second half, putting the onus on his defense to stop the Patriots.
Bill Belichick did not get into play-calling specifics after the game.
“Just couldn’t make enough plays tonight. It’s always disappointing to end like this,” he said.
Most disappointing of all was how his team was stopped one yard shy from scoring a touchdown.
In the playoffs, it almost never happens to the Patriots. But, this time, it did.