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 hosts 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’s 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 a 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 that we desire.”
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 comeback on road in Super Bowl 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.”
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.
Mariota, the 2014 Heisman winner, and Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman winner, combined to turn in the best rushing performance in franchise history in the wild-card round. Henry ran for a career-high 156 yards, and Mariota added 46 yards. Henry will be starting his third straight game with DeMarco Murray already out (right knee).
The Titans ranked fifth in the league with 43 sacks during the season and added four 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).
New England has 41 players with postseason experience, most of 2017 playoff teams. Fourteen Patriots players have played at least 10 playoff games. That’s more such players than 11 other playoff teams combined (13). Before the start of this postseason, the Titans had 18 players who had appeared in a playoff game.
Belichick and LeBeau
Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has an NFL-record 45 consecutive seasons as a coach, with Belichick at 43. Yet, with Belichick as head coach, he and LeBeau have faced off in the playoffs only once: the 2004 AFC championship game that New England won 41-27.
Tennessee at New England
Kickoff: 8:15 Saturday, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
Records: Titans are 10-7, Patriots are 13-3
Line: Patriots by 13
Outlook: QB Marcus Mariota has five of his nine winning drives this season, last coming in wild-card win over Chiefs. … RB Derrick Henry set franchise postseason record with 191 yards from scrimmage vs. Chiefs. Henry ran for career-high 156 yards. … Tennessee’s Mike Mularkey is 0-5 against Patriots and 0-6 against Bill Belichick as head coach.
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Records: Jaguars are 11-6, Steelers are 13-3
Line: Steelers by 7
Notable: Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles is one of only three QBs in NFL history to run for more yards (88) than he passed (87) for in playoff victory, joining Michael Vick (2005) and Otto Graham (1950). … Jaguars have only won multiple playoff games in the same postseason once (1996). … Steelers WR Antonio Brown expects to play. All-Pro missed final two games with a left calf injury.