Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota played admirably on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, but ultimately couldn’t do enough to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots. It also didn’t help that the Titans could not keep the Patriots’ pass rushers at bay.
The Pats combined for eight sacks between six different players in the team’s 35-14 win over the Titans. As superlative as Tom Brady’s performance was on offense, the defense mostly clamped down on Mariota in passing situations and held the Titans to just seven points until late in the fourth quarter.
Rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. set the tone on the Titans’ first offensive possession, sacking Mariota on third down to force a punt. Wise added another sack later in the game.
When asked what the defense talked about in their preparation, the rookie cited the importance of staying true to his week of practice and remaining composed for 60 minutes once he took the field in his playoff debut.
“You can’t play tight,” Wise told reporters after the game. “You have a job to do on the field. Trust the process, trust your moves, all the work you put into it.”
Another new face on the Patriots to register a sack was Ricky Jean-Francois, who signed with the team mid-season and has seen limited playing time. He gave the defense credit for recognizing and adjusting to the Titans’ offensive schemes after Tennessee had success early.
“They were hitting us with the run, so we calmed down for a minute and had to realize what types of runs they were hitting us with,” Jean-Francois told reporters after the game. “Once we did that we started knocking them around and turned them one-dimensional and then they had to pass the ball.”
The Patriots also had a good night in terms of tackling. Cornerback Eric Rowe made a key third-down tackle to stop the Titans short of the first down in the second quarter with the Pats up 14-7, which gave them the ball back and led to a momentum-swinging drive that put them up by two touchdowns.
Safety Devin McCourty expressed satisfaction with how the group tackled, especially after how much the coaches emphasized it during the week.
“Defensively, obviously, when you play well on third down, you don’t see a lot of plays that you would see if you give up third downs,” said McCourty. “So, and that’s always an emphasis for us – tackling. They had some guys that if you don’t tackle well, they’ll really hurt you.
“So, I thought we did a good job, especially at times when we’d drop into zone coverage and they catch it underneath, guys to just rally and tackle. I thought we did a really good job of that when it came up in the game.”
The Patriots defense could have a much tougher task ahead of themselves if they have to face the high-powered Pittsburgh Steelers offense. But their performance against the Titans should certainly inspire at least some confidence that they can play well enough to complement Brady and the offense.