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Patriots roll past Titans, 35-14

That didn’t go well.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The season is over for the Tennessee Titans. After an impressive win over the Chiefs, Tennessee took a trip to Foxboro — where playoff dreams go to die. That’s exactly what happened tonight. Here’s how it happened.

In a surprising twist, the Titans generated two stops to start this one. The run defense showed up early on and the secondary was good enough to blanket the Patriots’ receivers to start the game.

In a not so surprising twist, Terry Robiskie and Mike Mularkey went right back to their jumbo tight formations to start the game offensively. After having so much success spreading out the Chiefs and running with Derrick Henry, they went right back to their old ways. That resulted in an early appearance by Brett Kern.

The second drive was a different story. Marcus Mariota found a wide open Delanie Walker for a gain of 30. He then scrambled to convert 3rd and 7, getting into Patriots’ territory. A couple of snaps later, Jack Conklin got rolled up on from behind and had to exit the game. Dennis Kelly replaced him as Conklin walked to the locker room. He didn’t return.

That didn’t hinder the drive though. Mariota stood in the pocket and delivered this strike to Corey Davis, who hauled in the touchdown with one hand. It was the rookie’s first touchdown and it got the Titans off and running in Foxboro.

That drive got the attention of everyone, Patriots included. They hit a couple of big screens to Dion Lewis on their next drive, almost immediately getting into scoring position. James White would cap the drive off on a shovel pass to even things up.

Mariota needed an answer. On what appeared to be a 3rd down conversion to Eric Decker, a (very) weak offensive pass interference penalty was called — turning 3rd and 4 into 3rd and 14. That would force a Titans’ punt, changing the outlook of this one early on.

Tennessee had no answer for the Patriots’ running backs on the next drive. Dion Lewis and James White took it to the Titans’ defense, running right at the Tennessee front. After another White score, it was a 14-7 game.

Mariota was able to move it out to midfield during the next sequence, but an out route to Taywan Taylor fell two yards short of the sticks. Kern came on to punt again, handing the ball back to Brady and company with 7:10 to play in the half.

Brady started from his own nine, but couldn’t get anything started. Johnathan Cyprien defended James White on 3rd down, bringing out the punt team. Right on schedule, the referees called the Titans for a neutral zone infraction, after initially ruling a false start on New England.

The call gave Brady a fresh set of downs. That’s two questionable calls that went the way of the Patriots.

Brady didn’t miss with his second chance. Big plays to Rob Gronkowski had the Patriots is position once more. He finished that drive off with a strike to Chris Hogan to put the Titans down 21-7.

Mariota would get one more shot before the break to stop the bleeding. A pass interference call on New England got the Titans to midfield. Mularkey burned up all of his timeouts to set up a play for a 4th and 1 play. They brought out the jumbo package with 20 seconds to play and no timeouts left. Henry bounced it and was stuffed.

Henry’s decision to bounce aside, you have to wonder — what was the plan there if they got the 1st down? It was a bizarre sequence that gave the Patriots a shot a three points. Luckily, they missed.

So after playing a really solid half of football, the Titans trailed 21-7 — largely in part to some questionable calls from the referees.

The Titans got the ball to start the second half, needing a spark. That spark didn’t come as Mariota was sacked on 3rd down.

But LeBeau’s group got a stop as well. Mariota would start another drive at his own 23. Eric Decker got thing going with a false start, making things that much tougher. Mariota was sacked 1st and 15, torpedoing the drive before it ever began.

The next drive from New England was the back-breaker. Brandon Bolden found the endzone to give the Patriots a 28-7 lead. Gronkowski added another one after that.

Nothing was working for the Titans. After showing plenty of promise to start this one, the wheels fell off quickly. The Conklin injury killed them in the second half as the Patriots whipped them up front.

Mariota did add a garbage time touchdown to Corey Davis, which was their second of the night. If you’re looking for a bright spot, there it is.

With that, the Titans’ 2017 season comes to a close.

The referees didn’t do them any favors, but neither did the Titans’ offensive game plan. After so much success running the no-huddle spread look, Robiskie and Mularkey went right back to tight formations. They so badly want to play bully ball, but it just didn’t work this year. Their stubbornness to change was evident once again tonight in Foxboro.

While it’s impossible to know if the Titans could have finished the job, it’s disheartening to think about the gift calls that essentially took two possessions away from a hot Marcus Mariota.

This staff refusing to go back to what has worked in recent weeks was the cherry on top.