FOXBORO, Mass. — Marcus Mariota ran for two first downs in the opening quarter of Saturday night’s divisional-round playoff game. He spent the rest of the game running for his life.
The New England Patriots devoured the Tennessee Titans quarterback in his second career postseason game, setting a franchise playoff record with eight sacks in a dominant 35-14 victory at Gillette Stadium.
“We fed off the crowd,” said rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise, who led the way with two sacks in his playoff debut. “We fed off each other. The momentum was building play after play after play.”
After allowing Mariota and the Titans to march 95 yards for the game’s first touchdown, New England’s defense stiffened, holding Tennessee to negative net yardage on four of their next six possessions. And once a flurry of 21 Patriots points in 12 minutes forced the Titans to start throwing, the pass rush feasted.
New England tallied at least one sack on each of Tennessee’s first four drives after halftime, limiting the underdog Titans to minus-15 yards of total offense in the third quarter.
First, it was rookie Adam Butler overpowering center Ben Jones to drag Mariota to the turf on third-and-7. Then, one drive later, Ricky Jean Francois and Marquis Flowers swallowed the young QB on back-to-back to back plays, setting up a third-and-33 at the Titans’ own 2-yard line.
“I know when I felt (the momentum build), and I felt it after Ricky Jean got his sack, because that wasn’t the third-down package of me, Trey (Flowers) and Deatrich,” said Butler, who also helped make Wise’s first sack possible by providing strong pressure up the middle. “He just got off the ball, made a great move, and it just felt like we were on a roll at that point.”
The Patriots used that positive field position to stage their fourth touchdown drive of the night, and Trey Flowers wrecked the ensuing Titans possession when he sacked Mariota for a 7-yard loss on the very first play. New England scored again on the following series to make it 35-7 and effectively ice the game.
Wise added his second sack of the night early in the fourth quarter, and seldom-used Geneo Grissom tacked on two of his own in garbage time to cap an all-around excellent defensive effort.
To a man, every Patriots pass rusher credited the entire defense for the team’s record-setting sack total. New England also neutralized Derrick Henry, holding the Titans running back to 28 yards on 12 carries.
“The pass rush doesn’t come unless the coverage comes,” Wise said. “… With great coverage comes great rushes, and vice versa.”
Considered a weakness of the defense by many for much of the season, the Patriots’ pass rush has generated 18 sacks over the team’s last three games.
“Just playing Patriot football,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “Any time you can get pressure and play ball and having people keep telling you your pass rush sucks, and we keep shutting everybody up. We keep doing it because that’s what we do.”
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images