Pa­tri­ots turn at­ten­tion to Ti­tans as wild­card matchup looms

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By KYLE HIGHTOWER AP Sports Writer

FOXBOR­OUGH, MASS. (AP) >> No team has re­peated as Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons since the Pa­tri­ots did in the 2003 and 2004 sea­sons.

They’ll have to over­come their own his­tory — and a con­trib­u­tor to those cham­pi­onship teams — if they hope to do it again.

For the sec­ond straight year New Eng­land was tripped up by an un­ex­pected last-sea­son loss to Mi­ami.

This time, the de­feat was costly as it has rel­e­gated the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl champs to the wild­card round for the first time since 2009 where a tough matchup with the Ti­tans awaits.

New Eng­land can ex­pect to face a Ten­nessee team brim­ming with con­fi­dence. For­mer Pa­triot Mike Vra­bel coached the Ti­tans to a win over New Eng­land last sea­son in his first matchup against the team he helped win three Su­per Bowls.

The Pa­tri­ots’ 27-24 loss to the Dol­phins on Sun­day fea­tured many of the is­sues that have plagued New Eng­land through­out 2019, most no­tably its in­con­sis­ten­cies on of­fense.

But as he pre­pares to play on

the open­ing week­end of the post­sea­son for just the fourth time in his ca­reer, quar­ter­back Tom Brady said turn­ing the page should be the only thing on their minds.

“I think we’ve got to think about try­ing to win one game and not think about many things other than that,” Brady said. “So, we didn’t play the way we were ca­pa­ble. We got beat, and now we’ve got to play next week and we’ve got to play a lot bet­ter.”

Brady is 2-1 in the wild­card round. But the Pa­tri­ots have never made it to the Su­per Bowl when open­ing the play­offs as a wild-card team under Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

The sen­ti­ment in New Eng­land’s locker room is that his­tory doesn’t have to de­fine what is pos­si­ble this sea­son.

“I don’t think it is any more dif­fi­cult. You just have to go out there and play foot­ball,” run­ning back James White said. “It’s one ex­tra game if you make it to where you want to be.”

WHAT’S WORK­ING

De­spite the Pa­tri­ots’ merry-go-round at kicker this sea­son, Nick Folk has brought some steadi­ness to the po­si­tion. Since his one-week ab­sence fol­low­ing an ap­pen­dec­tomy, Folk has been spot-on, con­nect­ing on 7 of 8 field goals and go­ing 9 of 9 on ex­tra points. He made his lone field-goal at­tempt — a 25-yarder — on Sun­day.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

New Eng­land’s de­fense was picked apart by Mi­ami and quar­ter­back Ryan Fitz­patrick, al­low­ing a sea­son­high 326 pass­ing yards. It ended a streak of 25 straight reg­u­lar-sea­son games that the Pa­tri­ots hadn’t al­lowed a 300-yard passer, which was the long­est ac­tive streak in the NFL.

The Ti­tans ended the sea­son ranked 21st in the NFL, av­er­ag­ing 224 yards per game through the air.

STOCK UP

Line­backer Elan­don Roberts again came through in a big way in his dual role at full­back with James Develin on in­jured re­serve with a neck in­jury.

Roberts’ 38-yard re­ceiv­ing touch­down on Sun­day was the long­est by a line­backer since the merger in 1970. It was also the first re­ceiv­ing TD by a Pa­tri­ots line­backer since Vra­bel scored one in Week 8 of the 2007 sea­son.

STOCK DOWN

The Dol­phins’ de­fense ef­fec­tively took re­ceiver Ju­lian Edel­man out of the game, hold­ing him to just three catches for 26 yards on seven tar­gets. It was his sec­ond-fewest re­cep­tions of the sea­son. Edel­man was ques­tion­able head­ing into the game with knee and shoul­der in­juries and has been both­ered by var­i­ous ail­ments this sea­son. It’s not a wel­come devel­op­ment for a Pa­tri­ots of­fense that has bat­tled in­con­sis­tency this sea­son.

KEY NUM­BER

14 — Points per game al­lowed by the Pa­tri­ots’ de­fense this sea­son, fewest in the NFL.

NEXT STEP

The Pa­tri­ots have gen­er­ally been one of the best teams in the NFL com­ing off a loss. Since 2003, New Eng­land is 46-9 (.836) in reg­u­lar-sea­son games fol­low­ing a loss. As a starter, Brady is 48-13 in games after a loss.

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