Pa­tri­ots con­tinue chase for an­other Su­per Bowl

The Western Star - - SPORTS | SCOREBOARD - BY KYLE HIGHTOWER

Two things, among many, have been con­sis­tent for the Pa­tri­ots the past decade: Tom Brady at quar­ter­back and New Eng­land in the

AFC cham­pi­onship game.

Brady will try to lead his team to its sev­enth straight con­fer­ence ti­tle game Satur­day when it hosts the Ten­nessee Ti­tans in the divi­sional round.

It has been a chal­leng­ing week off the field for the Pa­tri­ots fol­low­ing re­ports of tur­moil in­volv­ing Brady, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft. But Brady says he’s never doubted his team’s abil­ity to com­part­men­tal­ize po­ten­tial dis­trac­tions.

“I think we have a job to do and we know what our job is and that’s to go out and play foot­ball at a high level and play well,” he said. “Noth­ing re­ally should get in the way of that.”

Ten­nessee hasn’t been to a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game since the 2002 sea­son, but has been in­vig­o­rated com­ing off its first play­off win in 14 years.

The Ti­tans en­ter as 13-point un­der­dog, but linebacker Der­rick Mor­gan said it’s a role they hap­pily em­brace .

“No­body re­spects us. No­body re­ally ex­pects a lot from us. That’s fine,” he said. “We haven’t been a very suc­cess­ful team in the last 10 years. So it’s easy for peo­ple to over­look us. So we’ve got to take care of busi­ness and start win­ning games like this to get the re­spect that we de­sire.”

To get it, they’ll have to stop a quar­ter­back that has been nearly un­beat­able in this round of the post-sea­son.

Brady is 11-2 in 13 di­vi­sion­al­round games since 2002 , pass­ing for 3,700 yards and 28 touch­downs.

He also has a 6-1 ca­reer rec- ord against the Ti­tans with 13 touch­downs and just one in­ter­cep­tion.

Ti­tans quar­ter­back Mar­cus Mar­i­ota was mostly un­flap­pable in lead­ing his team back from an 18-point half­time deficit to beat Kansas City - the largest come­back on road in Su­per Bowl era.

But since 2001, quar­ter­backs mak­ing their first or sec­ond ca­reer play­off start are 0-7 against New Eng­land.

“When it comes down to it, it’s all about us,” Mar­i­ota said. “I think that’s kind of been the mind­set through this en­tire sea­son. Ups and downs come and go, you just want to try and make the most of this op­por­tu­nity.”

Some things to watch on Satur­day:

MOV­ING ON UP: It will be Bill Belichick’s 37th ca­reer play­off game as a head coach, break­ing a tie with Tom Landry and Don Shula for the most in NFL his­tory. HEISMAN BROTH­ERS: Mar­i­ota, the 2014 Heisman win­ner, and Der­rick Henry, the 2015 Heisman win­ner, com­bined to turn in the best rush­ing per­for­mance in fran­chise his­tory in the wild-card round. Henry ran for a ca­reer-high 156 yards, and Mar­i­ota added 46 yards. Henry will be start­ing his third straight game with DeMarco Mur­ray al­ready out (right knee).

PRES­SURE: The Ti­tans ranked fifth in the league with 43 sacks dur­ing the sea­son and added four more against the Chiefs last week. Three-time Pro Bowl de­fen­sive line­man Jur­rell Casey had six from his in­te­rior spot, while Mor­gan led the Ti­tans with 7 1/2 sacks. Lineback­ers Brian Orakpo (seven) and Wes­ley Wood­yard (five) give the Ti­tans a va­ri­ety of op­tions to at­tack Brady, not count­ing backup linebacker Erik Walden (four).

EXPERIENCE GAP: New Eng­land has 41 play­ers with post-sea­son experience, most of 2017 play­off teams.

Brady

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