FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots machine rolls on.
Despite all the distractions, it was business as usual for the Patriots as they returned to the AFC Championship Game for the seventh consecutive season by beating the Tennessee Titans 35-14 on Saturday at frigid Gillette Stadium.
The result came after a week in which an ESPN The Magazine report detailed friction between coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft, and had each of the “Big Three” answering questions about it. By Tuesday morning, Belichick had felt the need to reset the agenda and said, “At this point, I’m all-in on Tennessee. I’ll answer any questions about the Titans, but that’s it.”
Belichick was all-in, and his team — after a slower-than-desired start — was all over the Titans on Saturday.
Falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter, they ripped off 35 points in a row, and by the start of the fourth quarter — when Brady converted a ridiculous across-the-field, high-arcing throw to convert a third-and-10 situation to clutch receiver Danny Amendola (first career 100-yard receiving game in the playoffs) — the bone-chilled-but-delirious crowd was chanting “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
It was a vintage Brady performance, as the 40-year-old decisively answered the question as to whether his December performance — which wasn’t up his usual high standard — was perhaps a sign of him finally starting to show his age.
Brady finished 35-of-53 for 337 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It marked Brady’s 10th career postseason game with three touchdown passes, which broke a tie with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, for the most in NFL history. Brady also extended his own playoff record for 300-yard passing games, with his 13th.
Upping the tempo in the second quarter ultimately was the change that turned the game around, as Brady and the Patriots pounced on the Titans with a fast-paced attack. The fire and passion with which Brady played was particularly evident late in the third quarter after a 2-yard touchdown run by Brandon Bolden, after which Brady raised his arms in the air and then delivered an emphatic fist pump.
Meanwhile, on defense, strong play on early downs against the run set up more long-yardage situations on third down for the Titans, and the pass rush looked as disruptive as it had all season. The team’s eight sacks established a Patriots postseason record.
In advancing to their seventh straight AFC Championship Game, the Patriots extend their own record, which they had set last season when they passed the Oakland Raiders, who advanced to five straight from 1973-77.