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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, January 13, 2018 1:00 am

Pats pursue 7th straight trip to AFC title game

KYLE HIGHTOWER | Associated Press


Who: Tennessee at New England

What: Divisional playoff game

When: 8:15 p.m. today

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Two things, among many, have been consistent for the Patriots the past decade: Tom Brady at quarterback and New England in the AFC championship game.

Brady will try to lead his team to its seventh straight conference title game today when it is host to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.

It has been a challenging week off the field for the Patriots following reports of turmoil involving Brady, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft. But Brady says he has never doubted his team's ability to compartmentalize potential distractions.

“I think we have a job to do and we know what our job is and that's to go out and play football at a high level and play well,” he said. “Nothing really should get in the way of that.”

Tennessee hasn't been to a conference championship game since the 2002 season but has been invigorated coming off its first playoff win in 14 years.

The Titans enter as 13-point underdog, but linebacker Derrick Morgan said it's a role they happily embrace.

“Nobody respects us. Nobody really expects a lot from us. That's fine,” he said. “We haven't been a very successful team in the last 10 years. So it's easy for people to overlook us. So we've got to take care of business and start winning games like this to get the respect.”

To get it, they'll have to stop a quarterback who has been nearly unbeatable in this round of the postseason.

Brady is 11-2 in 13 divisional-round games since 2002, passing for 3,700 yards and 28 touchdowns.

He also has a 6-1 career record against the Titans with 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was mostly unflappable in leading his team back from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat Kansas City – the largest road comeback in Super Bowl the era.

But since 2001, quarterbacks making their first or second career playoff start are 0-7 against New England.

“When it comes down to it, it's all about us,” Mariota said. “I think that's kind of been the mindset through this entire season. Ups and downs come and go, you just want to try and make the most of this opportunity.”

Some things to watch:

Moving on up

It will be Bill Belichick's 37th career playoff game as a head coach, breaking a tie with Tom Landry and Don Shula for the most in NFL history.


The Titans ranked fifth in the league with 43 sacks during the season and added four more against the Chiefs last week.

Three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey had six from his interior spot, while Morgan led the Titans with 71/2 sacks. Linebackers Brian Orakpo (seven) and Wesley Woodyard (five) give the Titans a variety of options to attack Brady, not counting backup linebacker Erik Walden (four).

Experience gap

New England has 41 players with postseason experience. Fourteen Patriots players have played at least 10 playoff games.

Before the start of this postseason, the Titans had 18 players who had appeared in a playoff game.