SUPER BOWL 52: Patriots-Eagles February 4 | New England Patriots Coverage | CBS Philly Coverage

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — So much for those off-field distractions.

The Patriots got off to a bit of a slow start in their AFC Divisional Round game against Tennessee on Saturday night, but when they got rolling, they really got rolling. New England completely dominated the Titans after shaking off some bye week rust, scoring 35 unanswered points en route to a 35-14 win. The victory puts them in the AFC championship game for the seventh straight year, which they’ll host next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

You can probably tell from the lopsided score that a lot went right for the Patriots. But here’s a quick breakdown of all those great things they did, plus a few things that weren’t so good.

Ups

Tommy Boy

Tom Brady was good. Real good. It was his best game in a while, as he completed 35 of his 53 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. He also didn’t throw an interception, something he had done in five of his last six regular season games.

But he was on point on Saturday, throwing a trio of touchdowns for the 10th time in his postseason career. That broke a tie with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, for the most in NFL history. He also added to his own playoff record with his 13th 300-yard passing game.

Heck, Brady may even get Patriot Player of the Week for this performance.

Danny Amendola

Amendola was an absolute beast on Saturday night, leading the way with 11 receptions for 112 yards. Five of those catches came on third down and moved the chains for New England.

“He’s Danny ‘Playoff’ Amendola,” Rob Gronkowski said after the game.

Gronk Dominates Byard

Gronk was no slouch himself. Kevin Byard is an All Pro safety, but he looked lost going up against the tight end. There’s no shame in that, because Gronkowski makes a lot of All Pro defenders look bad.

Gronkowski returned to the playoffs with six receptions for 81 yards and an effortless touchdown grab in the end zone.

Dion Lewis

New England’s electric running back finished with 141 total yards (62 rushing, 79 receiving on nine catches).

Welcome Back, James White

White returned from injury and scored a pair of touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground.

Hogan Delivers With Some Big Blocks

The receiver didn’t have a big night catching the ball, finishing with one grab on four targets, but he had some big blocks to help spring other players for big gains.

Taking Care Of Business After A Gift

The Patriots got a nice gift from the Titans in the second quarter, as Tennessee safety Brynden Trawick was hit with a neutral zone infraction while Ryan Allen lined up to punt from his own end zone. The penalty gave the Patriots a first down at their own 19, and they made the most of that new life, marching down the field and capping off the 91-yard drive with a Brady-to-Hogan touchdown to go up 21-7.

“The line judge saw a defensive lineman jump into the neutral zone, did not see the guard across from him move. The umpire saw the guard move and threw his flag for a false start, which is what we initially announced. When we got together and discussed it and pieced together that the defensive lineman across from the guard jumped in the neutral zone and caused the false start, that’s when we changed the ruling from a false start to a neutral zone infraction,” referee Ron Torbert explained after the game.

It was an interesting call (more on that in a second), but the Patriots took advantage. The Titans never recovered.

Third Downs

The Patriots offense converted 11 of their 17 third down opportunities. Their defense held the Titans to just five of 15 on third down.

Defense Makes Life Miserable On Mariota

Speaking of the New England D, they set a new franchise postseason record with eight sacks on Marcus Mariota. Deatrich Wise and Geneo Grissom both had two, while Adam Butler, Marquis Flowers, Trey Flowers, and Ricky Jean Francois all had one. Talk about a gigantic confidence boost for the Patriots’ front-seven heading into the AFC championship game.

The defense also bottled up Derrick Henry all night, holding him to 28 yards on 12 carries. They stuffed him on a questionable fourth-and-1 run late in the first half.

Downs

Slow Start

The Patriots actually took the ball first, but wasted their first drive. And their second.

Both drives went six plays but ended with Allen punts. At least the Patriots answered with three straight touchdown drives.

The Refs

NFL conspiracy theorists have some ammo after this one, starting with that neutral zone infraction on Trawick. It was initially called a false start on the Patriots, but the refs got together for a chat, and changed the penalty. So instead of a three-and-out for the Patriots and a punt from their own end zone, they were given a fresh set of downs. They made the most of it and took a 21-7 lead.

“The line judge saw a defensive lineman jump into the neutral zone, did not see the guard across from him move. The umpire saw the guard move and threw his flag for a false start, which is what we initially announced. When we got together and discussed it and pieced together that the defensive lineman across from the guard jumped in the neutral zone and caused the false start, that’s when we changed the ruling from a false start to a neutral zone infraction,” referee Ron Torbert explained after the game.

There was also an iffy OPI called on Eric Decker earlier in the quarter that negated a big reception on third-and-4. Thanks to these calls, we’re going to get another week of fans crying foul that every call ever goes New England’s way.

Bill’s Challenge

With the Patriots up by 21 points and 4:25 left on the clock, Bill Belichick challenged a Decker reception along the sidelines. It was vintage Belichick, as he waited until after an injury timeout to challenge.

He also had some fun along after, tossing the flag in the air. His catching abilities could use some work though.

But when you’re going to the AFC title game for the seventh straight year, no one will really criticize you for how — or when — you throw a challenge flag.

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