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Titans edge Patriots to advance to Divisional Round

*Bruising back Derrick Henry celebrated his 26th birthday by running for 182 yards and a touchdown to lead Tennessee to a 20-13 wild-card win Saturday over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium -- the Pats' first home loss in the playofs since 2012. The Titans sealed the win by running the clock down to less than 30 seconds and Logan Ryan returning a Tom Brady interception 9 yards for a touchdown. *

Here's what we learned as the Titans move on to face the top-seeded Ravens and the Patriots must ponder potential dynasty-ending night in New England:

  1. Saturday's wild-card game in Foxborough turned on a three-play sequence. New England countered Tennessee's early touchdown with one of its own, and appeared poised to push its lead to 17-7 just before half when the young, hungry Titans defense bowed up and denied their opponents. The key play: two youngsters -- Jeffrey Simmons and Rashaan Evans -- shooting the A gap to win leverage on interior blockers and stop Sony Michel in his tracks for a loss of 2 on third down. That victory in the trenches forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal and a 13-7 lead that might have been enough for New England to maintain in the early portion of the season, in which its defense was setting records with takeaways and points allowed, but wasn't even enough for the first half.
  1. When I watch the Titans, sometimes I can't help but think back to how Mike Mularkey's Titans would willingly go away from Henry for significant portions of regular seasons and wonder intensely why that would ever seem wise. Fortunately for these Titans, Mike Vrabel's staff knows not to make such a mistake. Henry rushed 34 (!) times for 182 yards and one touchdown and caught one pivotal pass to set up the go-ahead touchdown just before the half, powering Tennessee's offense and all but carrying it on his back to a playoff win. An incredible tidbit from Next Gen Stats illustrates how tough it was for New England to keep Henry from picking up yards: Henry gained 167 rushing yards after a defender closed within 1 yard, the most by a running back in a playoff game in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). That is how you take down the defending champs in their house.
  1. If this was Tom Brady's last game as a Patriot, what an unfortunate way to go out. Brady's 2019 Patriots had to play a wild-card game for the first time in a decade and suffered their first home playoff loss since the first term of the Obama Administration. The 42-year-old signal-caller finished without a touchdown pass and with a passer rating of 59.4. The defeat was capped in an appropriately imperfect fashion for the Greatest QB of All Time: A game-sealing pick-six. He was largely emotionless afterward, expressing "love" for the Patriots, who he said "have the greatest organization." One key pronoun used in that last quote: they. We'll see if this was the last of Brady, who indicated retirement wasn't in his plans, in nautical blue, red and new century silver.
  1. The Patriots usually take away a team's greatest strength, but they didn't commit to stopping Henry, instead trying to play balanced defense in order to allow the Titans to remain committed to the run and limit their total scoring potential. It largely worked, too, but New England realized by halftime it couldn't do much to stop Henry, emphasized no better than by Tennessee's two-minute drill, which looked much like its regular offense: More Derrick Henry. The Patriots spent halftime adjusting and deployed a variety of defensive looks, opting for a five-man front in an attempt to string out stretch runs. Tennessee countered by audibling to inside runs and sprinkling in play-action to mixed results as part of an ongoing chess match between the two sides. It required plenty of pre-snap changes and adjustments, implemented effectively by Ryan Tannehill, who has secured his biggest win in his career without making a ton of big throws. One of his important passes came late, though, when Tannehill fired a laser to Anthony Firkser, who wisely stayed in bounds past the sticks to keep the clock rolling while Tennessee chewed clock. Tannehill didn't have a masterful game statistically, and at one point he tossed a prayer to Corey Davis that didn't have a chance of being answered, was intercepted and looked like it might doom the Titans, but ultimately, he made the plays when they were needed most. Thanks in part to Henry, Tannehill has his first signature win and the Titans are moving on.
  1. Tennessee cornerback -- and former Patriot -- Logan Ryan dropped what would have been a pick-six just before halftime, and as this game continued to grind on toward a possible one-point difference, we couldn't help but wonder if that missed opportunity would end up costing the Titans. The opposite happened instead, with Ryan intercepting his former teammate and taking it a short distance to a game-sealing touchdown with 0:15 to play. Malcolm Butler wasn't available to get a revenge win over his former team, but Ryan took care of it and gave the internet its most satisfying finish to a Patriots elimination since, well, Super Bowl LII.
  1. New England had success on the ground when it came to double-digit gains, and its misdirection, gadgets and screens worked when used sparingly, but as time wound down on this one, the same question arose: Can this Patriots offense even move quickly enough to get in range for a field goal before time expires? Once the Titans scored the game's final touchdown, it essentially became moot. The Patriots got to 12-4 on the strength of their defense, but their ineffective offense proved to be their downfall in the postseason, typified by a drop by Julian Edelman on second down in the fourth quarter when trailing by one. Brady could no longer lean heavily on Rob Gronkowski and didn't have the go-to option on third down Saturday, which helped keep the game at a one-point difference until Ryan's pick-six. The Patriot Way of assembling its receiving corps finally came back to bite them in a painful fashion.
  1. The Titans won a game Henry called "muddy" afterward, which shouldn't be all that surprising, especially when it remained close late. These Titans have shown they can win the close ones, no matter the opponent, with much thanks due to Henry's presence, but also its defense. Consider: Tennessee threw the ball a mere 15 times for less than 75 yards and won against the league's No. 1 defense while also being slightly outgained 307-272. We said it weeks ago and we'll say it again: The Titans' style of play travels. It'll have to pack its bags again for Baltimore, where the Titans will have to earn a larger time of possession advantage than they did Saturday against a much better offense. We all know what that means: More Henry.
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