The Patriots host the Titans on Saturday night. It’s a game very few around the region feel particularly worried about, although I’ll go into a couple of details on that below.
New England could field a more complete team than what took on the Jets a couple of weeks ago, with the potential return of pass-catchers like Chris Hogan, James White, Rex Burkhead, and maybe even Malcolm Mitchell looming. Can these receivers return and contribute at a high enough level? Is Tom Brady so focused on the off-field stories surrounding Gillette that he will lose all the professionalism and poise he has gained in his 18-year career?
Meh. Probably not. But tune in and find out!
Chief Issues: Six home playoff losses in a row. I mean, that’s become a thing, right? Kansas City reminds me of 1990s New England: winning records and playoff appearances with some very good players, but not quite enough of whatever quality it takes to advance. In their 22-21 loss to the Titans, the Chiefs squandered not only home field advantage, but also a 21-3 halftime lead.
The loss was made all the more difficult to take considering Titans coach Mike Mularkey went into the game with the understanding that he was coaching for his job. Seems like one team understood how to deal with pressure.
Oh, Henry: Some irony in the fact that an injury to running back DeMarco Murray forced Derrick Henry into action. The Brobdingnagian back (6-3, 247) made himself at home, rushing 23 times for 156 yards (6.8-yard avg.) and a touchdown and catching two passes for 35 yards. Henry had only 176 carries in 16 games (11 per) for a 4.2-yard average. Maybe Henry should’ve gotten the ball more?
Logan Heir Sport: Surely the injury to tight end Travis Kelce played a role, but credit to Tennessee’s defense in shutting down the Chiefs in the second half. The back part of that defense got a lot of help this offseason from old friend Logan Ryan, who had 62 tackles and 11 passes defensed in 2017, along with three tackles last Saturday. As he did in Foxboro, Ryan gives a calming, focused presence in the backfield that helped hold Kansas City scoreless in the second half.
Mighty Casey Has Struck: Lots of talk about Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, who had three tackles in KC but more importantly maintained leverage on the line of scrimmage and became a nuisance to the Chiefs as the game wore on. The New England O-line’s ability to handle Casey will help determine the course of the home team’s offense.
Ref-Handed Throws: Did the officials toss this game away? I still don’t understand the “forward progress” call that handed the ball back to Tennessee when replays make it clear that quarterback Marcus Mariota fumbled on a sack by linebacker Derrick Johnson. (You can watch the GIF in this piece by Jeanna Thomas of SBNation.) The Titans went on to score a field goal on that drive.
The previous four paragraphs summarize the fears going into this game from a Pats perspective:
What The Foxboro? Henry’s ability to run the football, solid play from corners and D-line, and a couple of “my bads” by the officials, and this game could get uncomfortable. As we saw last year vs. Houston, the Patriots can get a bit groggy over the bye week. They bolted out to a 14-3 lead, but a couple of turnovers allowed the visitors back into the game for a 14-13 halftime score. New England righted the ship in the second half to pull away for a 34-16 win, but it’s easy to see a similar matchup this weekend.
(For a comprehensive scouting report on Tennessee, you can read Bill Belichick’s interview transcript from Wednesday here, courtesy of Jason Wolf of USA Today’s Titans beat.)
Tennessee lifted any pressure with their upset win. They can come into Foxboro and freestyle it, which could make for a longer-than-expected evening. If the Patriots can manage to play at or near their best for four quarters, they could play rude hosts; however, I expect this to remain a game into the third quarter. And if they prove me wrong, great.
You Talkin’ To Me? No TV notes this week. Instead, some flashbacks to the springs of 2009 and 2010 when, while writing for Patriots Daily, I corralled some college players before the draft to answer questions about their NFL aspirations. Below are the pros who made the playoffs this year, with their names linked to the interviews.
Jerry Hughes, TCU (Buffalo) – As the Mountain West Conference Defensive player of the year, I figured Hughes would’ve made a solid pass-rusher for New England. Probably didn’t fit the scheme, but he’s managed to stick around the league, finding a home with the Bills.
Andre Roberts, Citadel (Atlanta) – The Patriots were in the market for a wide receiver; Roberts put up solid numbers both in school and at the combine.
Antonio Brown, Central Michigan (Pittsburgh) – Ah, the one that got away. Thought a prolific receiver/punt returner from an overlooked school could fill a role in Foxboro. Had no idea how good Brown would turn out to be.
Arthur Moats, James Madison (Pittsburgh) – Moats, who played defensive end at JMU despite measuring six feet, 245 pounds, gave one of my favorite interviews. He offered a few details about his workout with New England and his interview with Washington, both of which are work reading.
Stevan Ridley, LSU (Pittsburgh) – One of the few Q&As I did post-draft, the former Patriots running back spoke about his lack of production in college and his career as a high school quarterback (Wildcat alert!).
Connor Barwin, Cincinnati (Los Angeles) – My first ever college player interview with Patriots Daily. A funny, self-aware guy who burst up draft boards with his athleticism. Always thought he would have made a great Patriot, somewhat in the Mike Vrabel mode.
Chris Maragos, Wisconsin (Philadelphia) – Maragos won’t play in the playoffs (he’s on IR), but after seeing his pro day numbers (6.4-second 3-Cone Alert!), he showed potential as a contributing safety and career special-teamer, which he became with Seattle and Philly.
Everson Griffen, USC (Minnesota) – Loved Griffen as a possible Pats pass-rusher. He spoke about a potential transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense. He also owned up to his brush with the law on Nantucket.
Linval Joseph, East Carolina (Minnesota) – Joseph, a defensive lineman, also discussed differences between 4-3 and 3-4 alignments. Then he patiently answered my dumb question about growing up outside the U.S., even though he did no such thing.
Hey, if Miami had made the playoffs, I had Koa Misi all lined up. Shame.
Talk Talk Talk Talk: If you have yet to watch the NFL Fan Therapy series from our old pal Fitzy, you can start with the Kansas City fan version. It features two solid jokes, one of which begins, “A Chiefs fan walks into a bar.” Give it a look when you get a chance.
Back In Black: The creepy-ironic series “Black Mirror” has returned with season four on Netflix. It’s a good substitute for “The Walking Dead” because I watch it and feel terrible about the world and yet continue to watch it. “Mirror,” though, saves you the serial angst of wanting to know what happens, as each episode is a standalone. I’m going to save you the heartache and – in too many cases – discomfort of watching them all by recommending the strongest/least unsettling episodes in “San Junipero” (season three) and “USS Callister” (season four). After those, you’re on your own.
“Black Mirror” is essentially “The Twilight Zone” if Rod Serling a) had to fill an hour, b) knew 21st Century technology, and c) had zero optimism regarding the human race.
Opposing Team Mascot Etymology: I’m going to go by the recommendation of Stephanie Stradley, Houston Texans fan, who has trolled Titans fans for years on the horrific origin of that team’s nickname. A link to an explanatory video of exactly who the Titans were in mythology can be seen here.
Opposting Team Site Name Etymology: Though its meaning isn’t clear, the name “Tanasqui” was first written down by a Spanish explorer in the 16th Century, alluding to a Cherokee village. Almost 30 different spellings have been used since then.
One of those spellings was not Tenacity. We’ll see who has more on Saturday.
Chris Warner will probably watch another episode of “Black Mirror,” even though he found “White Christmas” quite unsettling. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @cwarn89.