AFC Divisional Round
Pats are back for Championship but who are they playing?
By Qassim Merali, Contributor
“Will We Remember the Titans?”
Final Score: Patriots 35 – Titans 14
Coming off of a great win after beating the Kansas City Chiefs and overcoming an 18-point deficit, the Tennessee Titans came into the Divisional game as underdogs but clearly were riding high.
On the other side of the ball, the New England Patriots had been given plenty of ammunition by the media creating a circus over the Belichick-Kraft-Brady dynamic.
In terms of matchups, the Titans seemed to have the necessary tools to upset the Patriots. A major key to beating the Patriots is having a mobile quarterback and a power running game.
The Patriots are the best at exposing matchup problems. Having a slow start to their run game, they manage to utilize their running backs as pass catching options out of the backfield. The dynamic Dion Lewis and Super Bowl hero James White step up for the Patriots in big moments, putting up a whopping 181 yards and two touchdowns supplementing both the running and passing game with their diverse skill sets.
Once the Patriots got the running backs involved in the passing game, the Titans linebackers and safeties were forced to honor their coverage responsibilities, confusing them with a variety of looks and formations the Patriots open up their offence in the playoffs to the tune of 35 points.
In addition to the running backs, Tennessee simply cannot cover athletic tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski who is acting as both a spectacular blocker in the ground game and explosive playmaker in the pass.
He tallied six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Titans were exposed last week by Travis Kelce, who provides similar matchup problems before we went down with an unfortunate injury early in the second quarter.
Another key mismatch in the Titans’ backfield was slot receiver Danny Amendola.
If they had him double teamed in a phone booth, they still would not have prevented a big game out of him with a team leading performance of 11 receptions for 112 yards.
The Patriots Defence
The Patriots defence dominated the Titans almost as much as the offence did. With the addition of ex-Steeler James Harrison, the defenders seem to have their edge back, both literally and figuratively with James Harrison anchoring down as key outside linebacker.
This was on full display as the team managed to contain Derrick Henry after his coming out party against the Chiefs. In what originally seems to be an advantage for the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots run defence cuts off running lanes all night long holding the 6’3’’ 245-pound battering ram to a measly 12 carries for 28 yards.
After stunting the Titans ground attack the Patriots pass rush turned up the heat, setting a franchise post-season record with eight sacks of the quarterback. This is further aided by the loss of Marcus Mariota’s blind-side protector and pro bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Under fire for the entirety of the game and with no running attack to lean on Mariota plays surprisingly well in these dire circumstances. Going 22/37 for 254 and two touchdowns as well as leading the team in rushing with four carries gaining 37 yards, the future is bright for this young group of pros.
“Sacksonville Returns to Heinz Field”
Final Score: Jaguars 45 – Steelers 42
If somebody told me that the Steelers would be able to put up 42 points on this Jacksonville Jaguars team – and still come out with a loss – I would tell them to stay out of NFL betting pools, but the upset has been pulled.
The results are due to a combination of the Steelers mistakes and the Jaguars’ ability to capitalize on them. Found in both coaching and execution, the Steelers practically handed the Jaguars multiple scoring opportunities and the Blake Bortles led offence makes them pay.
The Jaguars Offence
Starting the game with big plays in the passing game from quarterback Blake Bortles — going three-for-three and gaining 53 yards through the air — the Jaguars opened up running lanes for rumbling rookie sensation, Leonard Fournette. By forcing the Steelers defenders to respect the passing attack Fournette made some tone setting runs against a normally stout Pittsburgh defence.
The Jaguars run game was — as expected — the focal point of this offensive attack.
Controlling the line of scrimmage every Jaguars player to rush in this game had enjoyed success, between the shared effort of backs T.J. Yeldon and Fournette, as well as clutch scrambles by Bortles the Jaguars put up a combined total of 164 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground, three of which are scored by the freight-train Fournette.
While Bortles does have a slump after the second quarter missing, a handful of throws and making some poor decisions, he rebounds in strong fashion during the fourth quarter getting a couple of big completions in the clutch to help keep the Jaguars ahead.
The Steelers Sadden
The Pittsburgh Steelers make their mark on offence, with the killer B’s in full effect, they play themselves into this game despite a number of mistakes and falling to a 21-point deficit before their first score.
Ben Roethlisberger went ballistic, throwing for 469 yards and five touchdown setting Steelers postseason records.
It’s clear that Roethlisberger raises his level of play to make up for turnovers. A bad interception that sets up the Jaguars for their second score of the game — as well as the strip sack by pro bowl snub Yannick Ngakoue returned for a touchdown by the Jaguars cost the team dearly giving the Jaguars an easy 14 points.
Ben’s fumble occurs after holding the ball in a collapsing pocket for far too long, something any good quarterback would hold themselves accountable to.
Stud wide receiver Antonio Brown once again shows why he should be in the running for league MVP, bailing out the Steelers attack by quickly uncovering and making key conversions whenever given the opportunity.
Brown finished the game with seven catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns highlighted by the burning of elite cover corner A.J. Bouye for a 43 yard touchdown on a fourth and five in the final quarter of the game.
Le’Veon Bell was his usual dual threat self, making his presence felt in the running and passing game. Bell totalled 155 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns off of 25 total touches dishing up servings of his patented patience to fresturate Jaguar defenders whenever he had the ball in his hands.
Big Ben’s turnovers aside, the Steelers have some key moments in the game that cost them dearly. Starting with an early decision to go for it on fourth and one. Down 45-42 with one second left I cannot help but recall the Steelers first time going for it. Well within field goal range those three points would mean a tie game, not to mention the fact that the Jaguars drive down the field to score a touchdown making it their first points off of a turnover.
The Jaguars did the unthinkable and win against the Steelers in a shootout.
They deserve all the credit in the world, but for everything they do to win the game, the Steelers do everything you could could ask for to lose it. Right down to the end when Pittsburgh elected to go for the onside kick before they had even reached the two minute warning.
Jacksonville recovered the kick and despite the Steelers defence holding them to a three and out, they were already within field goal range — kicking it in and making a two score game at 45-35 for the Jaguars.