FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The longest-lasting dynasty in NFL history, a reign of dominance that began in 2001 and shows no signs of ending even with a 40-year-old quarterback at the controls of the offense, continued Saturday night with yet another masterful performance by the Patriots.
After a week’s worth of controversy in the wake of an ESPN.com story that suggested significant infighting at the highest levels of the organization, the machine that is this football team churned out a 35-14 win over the overmatched and overwhelmed Titans at Gillette Stadium.
Presumptive MVP Tom Brady, who has seven Super Bowl appearances and five championship rings, led the Patriots to their seventh straight AFC Championship Game.
“I’ve been around long enough, 18 years, so many nice things have been said about me. It just goes with the territory,” Brady said of this latest controversy. “I just try to be consistent. Regardless of whether I’m the worst or the best in the league, or somewhere in between, my job is to do the best I can every week.”
Brady was at the center of the ESPN story, which reported the quarterback was relieved by the Patriots’ midseason trade of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers. Brady said during the week that he had no problems with Garoppolo and chafed at the implication that he was threatened by his presence. The report also suggested that Patriots owner Robert Kraft ordered coach Bill Belichick to trade Garoppolo, something Kraft has vigorously denied.
In the end, the controversy did nothing to derail Brady and the Patriots.
Brady was 35-for-53 for 337 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 102.5 rating. It was his NFL-record 10th career playoff game with at least three touchdown passes, surpassing Joe Montana, Brady’s boyhood idol. It also was Brady’s 21st playoff game with at least two touchdown passes, extending his NFL record.
“Being on the field is a great place,” he said. “That’s where you go prove it. You can talk all day about what you’re going to do or what you can do, until you have to do it. When we get out there, that’s the best part of the week. To play well and advance is great for this team. We’ve got to do it again next week.”
The Titans were coming off a stirring 22-21 comeback win over the Chiefs in the previous Saturday’s AFC wild-card playoff game in Kansas City, as Marcus Mariota rallied Tennessee from a 21-3 halftime deficit with a remarkable second-half performance.
Against the Patriots, the only bright moment for the third-year quarterback came on a 95-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter.
Brady led the Patriots 73 yards and finished off the series with a 5-yard touchdown shovel pass to running back James White around left end.
The Titans had a crucial, yet questionable, pass-interference penalty go against former Jet Eric Decker to scuttle their next possession.
The Patriots scored on their next possession, this time on a 6-yard run around left end by White.
The Patriots later took advantage of yet another beneficial call, as the Titans were flagged for a neutral zone infraction on fourth down from the New England 14. The penalty gave the Patriots a first down, and they wound up scoring on a 16-play, 91-yard drive that consumed 5:18. Brady threw his second touchdown pass of the night, a 4-yarder to Chris Hogan in the middle of the end zone.
The Patriots made it 28-7 in the third quarter on Brandon Bolden’s 2-yard touchdown run up the middle and increased the lead to 35-7 on Rob Gronkowski’s 4-yard touchdown catch with 10:22 left in the fourth.
Corey Davis caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive and make it 35-14 with 3:53 left.