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VOL. 42 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 12, 2018

Titans at Patriots: What to watch

By Terry McCormick

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Titans at Patriots

Saturday, Jan. 13, 7:15 p.m.

TV: CBS (WTVF, Channel 5)

Radio: 104.5 FM

The Tennessee Titans are playing with house money after stunning the Kansas City Chiefs last Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, rallying from an 18-point halftime deficit to squeeze out a 22-21 victory.

But the stakes are raised even more this week in the divisional round as the Titans play in New England. Trips to Foxborough have not been kind to the Titans’ franchise over the years. There was the 17-10 playoff loss in the 2003 and, of course, the 59-0 debacle there in 2009.

Overall, the Titans franchise has lost six consecutive games to the Patriots, have never won in Gillette Stadium and last won in Foxborough in 1993 while still the Houston Oilers.

Here are our four downs for this week:

First down: Keep feeding Derrick Henry. Sure, the Patriots will be better prepared for the run game than the Chiefs were, but the Titans re-established some of their lost identity with Henry’s 156-yard performance in KC. The Titans showed guts in sticking with the run while trailing by 18. This week, it probably would be a good idea not to trail Tom Brady and Bill Belichick by 18.

Second down: Ride Marcus Mariota. Mariota showed plenty of moxie and did a little bit of everything on Sunday, throwing, running, blocking – even catching. The Titans will need Mariota to continue playing loose and relaxed, even as the challenges grow tougher this week.

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Third down: Harass Tom Brady. OK, Brady can still kill you if you blitz by finding open receivers for big-chunk plays. But the Titans and Dick LeBeau will still have to picks some spots and put a 40-year-old quarterback under duress.

Fourth down: Try to slow down Gronk. That’s a tall order, considering Travis Kelce was carving up the Titans secondary before being knocked out of the game with a concussion. Rob Gronkowski is the one tight end on the planet who might be more valuable to his team than Kelce (Delanie Walker might be somewhere in that conversation, too). The Titans can’t let Gronk make big plays with run after the catch explosiveness if they want to have a chance in this one.

Matchups to watch

Tom Brady vs. Dick LeBeau. Venerable QB vs. venerable defensive coordinator. The chess match between these two should be interesting. LeBeau will certainly have something up his sleeve to try and confuse or slow down Brady and the Patriots’ offense. The question might be how well his Titans defenders can execute that plan.

Rob Gronkowski vs. Kevin Byard/Jayon Brown et al. The Titans wound up with strong safety Johnathan Cyprien on Travis Kelce too often in the first half last week. And even though Cyprien’s hit knocked Kelce out of the game – a major turning point – the Titans have to find someone who can sort of matchup with Gronk, which won’t be easy.

Delanie Walker vs. Devin McCourty. McCourty is part of the heart of the Patriots’ secondary, and will be an intriguing matchup paired against the Titans’ best pass catcher. Walker had a quiet 74 yards receiving on six catches vs. the Chiefs. He wasn’t needed as much as a receiver because of the run game, but look for the Titans to try and get him the ball more this week.