FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots machine rolls on.
Despite all the distractions, it was business as usual for the Patriots as they earned a return to the AFC Championship Game for the seventh consecutive season by beating the Tennessee Titans35-14 on Saturday at frigid Gillette Stadium.
The result came after a week in which an ESPN The Magazine report detailed friction between coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft and had each of the “big three” answering questions about it. By Tuesday morning, Belichick had felt the need to reset the agenda and said, “At this point, I’m all-in on Tennessee. I’ll answer any questions about the Titans, but that’s it.”
Belichick was all-in, and his team — after a slower-than-desired start — was all over the Titans on Saturday.
“This time of year, there’s no such thing to me as distractions,” said safety Devin McCourty, one of the team’s captains. “Unless you have some issue going on with your family or something like that, there is nothing else that can distract you. I don’t care what comes out, what’s said. Our goal from the beginning of the season was to be able to play in the playoffs and try to go out there and win games in the playoffs. There’s nothing right now that can deter us from that.”
“You have to keep ignoring noise on the outside,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said postgame on NBC, “and just keep working every time you walk in the building and just keep grinding.”
After falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter, the Patriots ripped off 35 points in a row, and by the start of the fourth quarter — when Brady converted a ridiculous across-the-field, high-arcing throw to clutch receiver Danny Amendola (first career 100-yard receiving game in the playoffs) to convert a third-and-10 situation — the bone-chilled but delirious crowd was chanting, “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
“We locked eyes early and I could tell he was thinking about it,” Amendola relayed. “I kept running, knew I had a couple yards, and he looked back again and let it go. It ended up working out.”
It was a vintage Brady performance, as the 40-year-old decisively answered the question as to whether his December performance — which wasn’t up his usual high standard — was perhaps a sign of him finally starting to show his age.
Brady finished 35-of-53 for 337 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It marked his 10th career postseason game with three touchdown passes, which broke a tie with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, for the most in NFL history. Brady also extended his own playoff record for 300-yard passing games, with his 13th.
Upping the tempo in the second quarter ultimately was the change that turned the game around, as Brady and the Patriots pounced on the Titans with a fast-paced attack. The fire and passion with which the quarterback played was particularly evident late in the third quarter after a 2-yard touchdown run by Brandon Bolden, after which Brady raised his arms in the air and then delivered an emphatic fist pump.
Meanwhile, on defense, strong play on early downs against the run set up more long-yardage situations on third down for the Titans, and the pass rush looked as disruptive as it had all season. The team’s eight sacks established a Patriots postseason record.
In advancing to their seventh straight AFC Championship Game, the Patriots extend their own record, which they had set last season when they passed the Oakland Raiders, who advanced to five straight from 1973 to ’77.
As for the distractions, when it was mentioned to Brady that there had been a lot of negativity in the media over the last week, specifically with him, he smiled and said, “Really?”
That sparked laughter among some reporters, before Brady was asked if he draws any satisfaction from silencing his critics.
“You know what? No,” he answered. “I’ve been around long enough — 18 years. There’s been so many nice things said about me. That just goes with the territory.
“I just try to be consistent, show up and do the best I can do every week for the team, and regardless of whether I’m the worst quarterback in the league or the best quarterback in the league or somewhere in between, it’s just my job is to do the best I can do for us every week.
“It was a good team win today. We’re going to need another one next week. Whoever we play is going to be a great team. I’m looking forward to playing in the championship game.”
Published at Sun, 14 Jan 2018 04:46:34 +0000
PHILADELPHIA — Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones made no excuses for not coming up with what would have been the game-winning catch in the final moments of Saturday’s 15-10 divisional playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the ball on the Eagles’ 2-yard line, Jones, covered by cornerback Jalen Mills on the play, slipped to the ground and appeared to take a push from Mills. He still was able to get to his feet and almost make a play on Matt Ryan‘s floating pass on fourth-and-goal.
“It was just a sprintout, a rollout to me,” Jones said. “Trying to take advantage of one-on-one [coverage] down there.
“I don’t know, but at the end of the day, I can make those plays. I ended up on the ground when I came out of my route. And that’s a tough call [for the official] to make during that situation in the game. That was it.”
Jones, the Falcons’ leading receiver this season, had four touchdown receptions in 16 regular-season games and two playoff contests. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan went 1-of-18 (6 percent) on passes to Jones in the end zone this season, after going 3-of-8 on those passes last season.
Ryan explained Saturday’s final play from his vantage point.
“That’s a play we practice all the time, and certainly in those situations you go to your best player,” Ryan said. “Obviously, roll to the right and have an opportunity to Julio. It just didn’t work out and that’s disappointing. That’s the life you live as a competitor — when you get in those situations, you want the ball in your hand. I think it was a right call. I think we had the right players in mind at the right time — and we just fell a little bit short.”
Eagles safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod said they identified the play before the snap based on formation. They alerted the rest of defenders, including Mills, who said he knew Jones was coming his way.
“They communicated all the way from [Ronald] Darby’s side to my side,” Mills said. “You can’t do nothing but be thankful for having those veteran safeties that are able to ID formations.”
Said McLeod: “It was right hash. That’s kind of a lot of teams’ tendency, is to sprint out, and as soon as I saw the tight end come over I was like, ‘There it is.’ This is everything you dream of as a player. You do your study, you do your preparing, and they come out and run the identical play, and the guys did a good job of stopping it, man.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn didn’t appear to have a problem with the fourth-down playcall by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Quinn was asked if he was confident Ryan and Jones could execute the play.
“Damn right. Absolutely,” he said. “We’re giving our shots to Matt and Julio to go for it and win the game. We didn’t get the job done, but 100 out of 100 we’re gonna put the ball in those two guys’ hands to try to win.”
The Falcons were 1-of-3 in the red zone against the Eagles. They finished the season 0-7 in games in which they failed to score 20 points. After leading the league at 33.8 points per game a year ago en route to the Super Bowl, the Falcons finished the 2017 season at just 22.1 points per game.
Despite the obvious problems, Quinn expressed support for Sarkisian, who took over for Kyle Shanahan in February 2017.
“I recognize that goes with the job, and so does Sark,” Quinn said of the criticism. “Like all things, we assess it all the way through. How can we do things better? There are a lot of things that Sark has brought to our team that we really like.
“I can take a long time to go through different spots, so it’s easy to place blame all onto one person, and that’s a shared responsibility when we don’t achieve at the level that we would like to. There are a lot of really good things that we’ve done, and it was highlighted certainly [Saturday night] where we didn’t get the job done at the end of the game.”
Jones, who backed Sarkisian all season, said he had no problem with the late-game playcalling.
“I feel like everything went well,” Jones said. “It’s up to us to make them come to life. We’re all in this together — whatever is called down, it’s up to us to execute and make it come to life.”
ESPN’s Tim McManus contributed to this report.
Published at Sun, 14 Jan 2018 03:23:31 +0000