Everyone loves a challenge.
Since the New England Patriots probably won't get much of one from the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs tonight, I thought I might try to come up with a fun little exercise in which I try to figure out some way in which the Titans knock off the Pats and advance to their first AFC Championship Game since the 1999 season.
Remember the Titans? Heck, they’re just supposed to be an afterthought.
Still, just call me Mary Swanson, because I’m saying there’s a chance. Here’s how it’s possible, however remotely:
THE PATRIOTS BEAT THEMSELVES
A good portion of the time, this is the only way New England loses. They’d have to really beat themselves to fall to this Titans team, but stranger things have happened. The Wild Card loss to the Ravens in 2010 is proof positive that the Pats can choke away a home playoff game.
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, THE PATRIOTS LET A DISTRACTION DISTRACT THEM
The ESPN story has been the talk of New England since it was released over a week ago, and whether or not you want to believe a bulk of what Seth Wickersham wrote, the timing of the piece was absolutely manufactured. It was released just in time for the entire NFL world to be talking about the Patriots over a weekend when the Patriots would not be playing a football game. It kept a team that America either loves or hates among the top headlines.
But it’s also nothing new — every time a story breaks about the Patriots, they have an innate ability to block out all the noise, focus up, and win games. If they could win a Super Bowl with blaring whispers around the very beginnings of Deflategate, they can ignore anything.
Yet this time it’s different — instead of an attack on the team that causes a divide between them and the rest of the NFL, this time, the story was looking to foster a divide between the Holy Trinity of Kraft, Belichick and Brady. That’s the kind of crack that could potentially grow into a crevice and then into a crevasse, and the Titans could be the beneficiary if it does.
THEY LET A MOBILE QUARTERBACK GET AWAY
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota says he’s finally getting healthy after battling a hamstring injury throughout the season that has limited his mobility. However, he looked like he was back in form for much of the second half of last week’s Wild Card win over Kansas City.
The Patriots have had issues with mobile quarterbacks this season, and Mariota is trending more toward Alex Smith or Cam Newton than he is Tyrod Taylor at this point.
But it’s also safe to say that perhaps the Chiefs or Panthers would have had a much harder time scoring on the Pats had James Harrison been in the mix back then, like he is now. The Patriot defense is much more stout than it was back in the early goings of the regular season, but it’s still prone to breakdowns and Mariota scrambling around the field could cause a few of them.
NEW ENGLAND FANS DON’T SHOW UP
Look, I know Patriots fans think they’re the best in the NFL, but there’s no debate — a full and raucous Gillette Stadium still has nothing on Arrowhead, which any Pats fan remembers set the record for loudest stadium during that should-be-forgotten Monday Night Football game against the Pats in 2014. The Titans somehow managed to pull out a win under those conditions, and Mariota deserves some credit for his heads-up “self-touchdown pass,” because that place exploded (albeit briefly) when Darrelle Revis blocked the pass. That only infuriated the KC crowd even more as the Titans mounted their comeback from an 18-point deficit, along with some things breaking in their favor the rest of the way.
This isn’t Peyton Manning and the Colts, Big Ben and the Steelers, or even Joe Flacco and the Ravens coming into Gillette. The Titans were just 9-7 in the regular season, 2-2 against playoff teams and 3-5 on the road. Mariota threw 11 interceptions in opposing stadiums, compared to just five touchdowns. But a 12th man can still go a long way to killing any dreams of an upset, and rather quickly, too.
Now, Saturday night is expected to be chilly in Foxboro, but with Pats fans having all day to be drinking warming libations, I’m expecting they won’t be feeling the cold too much by the time kickoff rolls around. Will they respond in kind once the foghorn sounds?
UMMM ... THESE GUYS ARE DUE??
Titans head coach Mike Mularkey has never beaten Bill Belichick as a head coach, going 0-6 with the Bills, Jaguars and Titans. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is 5-2 scheming against Belichick and Brady, with Brady throwing 17 touchdowns and only three picks against LeBeau’s Steeler defenses.
Granted, this might be the biggest stretch of all of our “reasons,” but eventually, something has to break your way ... well, unless you’re the 2017 Cleveland Browns, or the 2008 Detroit Lions. Then, fate apparently just hates you.
The bottom line is, just as in everything in which there is more than possible outcome, there is a chance — however slight — that the Titans beat the Patriots. The world is a funny place, and if we are talking this week about a possible 2020 presidential campaign that sees Oprah Winfrey challenging an incumbent Donald Trump, I suppose we must also accept Tennessee advancing past New England in the playoffs as a potential possibility.
But I’d sooner bet the Titans end up more like the Titanic, and go down within two hours and 40 minutes.
Tim Weisberg covers the New England Patriots for The Standard-Times. Follow him @timweisberg, and contact him at email@example.com