New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws the ball during the fourth quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady looked far from ordinary, and so did most of his weapons. I say “most” because it wasn’t a perfect night in Foxboro. But it was certainly overwhelming enough for the Pats to leave Gillette Stadium with an easy 21-point victory over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Playoff.

Here are tonight’s takeaways…

No Officiating Excuses Allowed

The officiating will be the subject of many complaints from fans and observers outside New England. They really shouldn’t be, considering the Pats won by a mere three touchdowns. But the officials factored heavily into the biggest momentum swing of the game.

The Titans forced the Patriots to punt from their own 14-yard line, and appeared to bait them into a false start that would have pinned them back even further. But the officials reconvened and ultimately ruled that the penalty was actually a neutral zone infraction by the Titans. When you look at the replay, it turns out they made the right call. But this is the Patriots, so that particular call will be talked about far too much in the coming days.

Of course, the Patriots ended up driving the rest of the field to go up 21-7 and they never looked back.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 13: James White #28 of the New England Patriots carries the ball for a touchdown as he is defended by Kevin Byard #31 of the Tennessee Titans in the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Back To Being Terrific

Tom Brady delivered a major turnaround from what was an uninspiring close to the regular season. After posting an 81.6 passer rating in his final five games, he turned in a 102.5 on Saturday night. It was his 10th career postseason game with three or more touchdowns, which passed Joe Montana to set a new NFL record.

One of his passes was a simple drop-off to James White, but it goes in the books as a pass. Still, Brady was mostly sharp after a slow start to the game. And he felt good about the offense’s ability to keep their momentum going once they started moving the ball and getting into the end zone.

“I thought once we could get into the drive we did a good job kind of keeping the defense defensive,” Brady told reporters after the game. “We had them misaligned a few times, had some easy throws where we had some guys uncovered, but that’s a good way to kind of keep the pressure on the defense.”

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws the ball during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

“Danny Playoff Amendola”

Danny Amendola re-emerged as his usually reliable self, setting a new standard for his typically bankable postseason performance with 11 catches for 112 yards. Many of his catches came over the middle of the field and in key situations when the Patriots needed to move the chains.

The most impressive play of the night for them came late in the game with the Patriots well in control. Brady scrambled out of the pocket and heaved the ball across his body as he went to the ground, and Amendola was able to go up and get it in a spot where only he could. When asked about the play, he said he and Brady made the play happen with simple eye contact during the play.

“We locked eyes early and I could tell he was thinking about it,” said Amendola. “I kept running and I knew I had a couple yards, and he looked back again and let it go and it ended up working out.”

It almost felt like the Patriots were waiting to finally unleash Amendola after conserving him throughout the regular season. He may now resume his regular clutch postseason role. Rob Gronkowski gifted him the very catchy nickname “Danny Playoff Amendola” in his postgame presser, and I think that’s gonna stick.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 13: Danny Amendola #80 of the New England Patriots catches a pass as he is defended by Logan Ryan #26 of the Tennessee Titans during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Running Backs Dominate

The Patriots’ running backs controlled the game whenever they had the ball in their hands, especially in the passing game. The Titans allowed the third-most receptions to running backs (99) in the regular season, so that didn’t come as much of a surprise. But it was good to see Brady take advantage of the backs’ mismatches and for the backs to step up and execute, especially on a night where they were shorthanded.

Dion Lewis remains the second-biggest weapon in the 2017 version of the Patriots offense, Amendola’s performance notwithstanding. Lewis almost nonchalantly racked up 141 yards on 24 total touches, including nine catches and a couple of big catch-and-runs. He very nearly burned the Titans for a 50-yard touchdown, before the officials discovered that his backside hit the ground after 31 yards.

James White also picked up where he left off in Super Bowl LI, despite getting just eight touches in the game. But he got a couple of key touches down by the end zone and did his job by hitting pay dirt. Like Amendola, his presence on the field as a reliable target for Brady could be a boon for the offense for the rest of the playoffs, especially in third-down gotta-have-it situations.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 13: Dion Lewis #33 of the New England Patriots reacts with Rob Gronkowski #87 in the second quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Cooks Has Off Night

Brady had plenty of weapons make plays for him on Saturday night, but Brandin Cooks was not one of them. He made three catches on nine targets overall, and most of his non-catches were on him. Besides an impressive catch-and-run on a screen pass, Cooks wasn’t much of a factor in the offense Saturday night. Not that he needed to be.

If you had to nitpick the evening, Cooks was one player who clearly stood out as one whose stock went down. And he didn’t lack opportunities; on a handful of targets Brady put the ball in his hands and he couldn’t complete the play. But ultimately, if Cooks made those plays he simply would have made an already dominant effort that much better.

Malcolm Butler Struggles At Times

Not the best night for Malcolm Butler. He let Corey Davis get behind him on the Titans’ first touchdown of the game, and got beat in garbage time by Davis for a second score. He also let Eric Decker get separation on a handful of plays. But he benefited from Decker and others dropping passes and committing stupid penalties at times.

Perhaps Butler deserves a little credit for at least avoiding those kinds of costly mistakes. But he’s certainly had better games in his career.

Marcus Mariota Relatively Impressive

For a 24-year-old quarterback making his first start against a Bill Belichick-coached defense, and doing it on the road in a playoff game, Titans QB Marcus Mariota put forth an admirable effort. He was under siege for much of the night, taking eight sacks, and also had to deal with receivers dropping balls left and right.

The majority of Mariota’s 15 incompletions weren’t necessarily on him. He made plenty of good throws and never made that one back-breaking interception, which you may have spent all night waiting for after he threw 15 picks in the regular season.

And if you’re a Patriots fan reading this, you know you briefly got a queasy feeling in your stomach when the Titans went up 7-0 in the first quarter. After the Patriots started the game off with two uninspired drives, Mariota kicked off the next Titans drive with a 36-yard pass to a wide-open Delanie Walker. And he capped the drive with a ridiculous throw to the back of the end zone to Corey Davis, who made an equally ridiculous one-handed catch as Butler was grabbing his other arm.

The Titans clearly struggled to move the ball as much as any opponent to roll through Gillette Stadium in the divisional round. But Mariota himself showed a little something in this game. If the Titans can pair him with a better coach, he could still have a chance to develop into an elite guy. For him to come to Foxboro and be less than an unqualified disaster was impressive in itself. His teammates, on the other hand…

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 13: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans throws in the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 13: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans throws in the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

In Conclusion…

As the Patriots get ready to host the AFC Championship Game, a round they’ve made for seven straight years, they don’t have a ton that they need to fix. The hope is that they don’t have the kind of breakdowns they had on the Titans’ second drive of the game against the Steelers or Jaguars, or it could get ugly. Butler and Cooks stand out as two key players who need to be better as the competition gets stronger.

But overall, most of the Patriots did exactly what they were supposed to do and took care of business against a clearly inferior opponent. In light of the controversy ignited by ESPN’s new investigative report about the team, fans can exhale knowing that the team kept their focus and did their job the way they were expected to do it on Saturday.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.