By JIMMY GOLEN
AP Sports Writer
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey speaks to down judge Jerod Phillips on the sideline during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the New England Patriots, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota gets up from the turf after being sacked during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the New England Patriots, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
New England Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers (59) sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
New England Patriots defensive tackle Adam Butler, rear, sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Marcus Mariota threw for a touchdown to give the Tennessee Titans an early lead, and had another TD pass that was the final score of the game.
In between, he spent a lot of time trying to limp away from the New England Patriots rush.
One week after leading the Titans to victory in his first career playoff game, Mariota took his first postseason loss - and took it hard - absorbing eight sacks while the Patriots scored five touchdowns in a row on their way to a 35-14 victory in the AFC divisional round Saturday night.
''Man, embarrassed,'' said Mariota, who sustained what coach Mike Mularkey said was a strained quadriceps muscle in the first quarter and went 44 minutes between scores.
''It felt like the momentum was on our side'' after a 15-yard pass to Corey Davis gave the Titans a 7-0 lead, Mariota said. ''They're a team that's been here before, and they didn't blink an eye. They just stuck to their game plan and it worked out for them.''
Just two seasons after going 3-13 when Mariota was a rookie, the Titans (10-8) reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Last week, they earned their first postseason victory in 14 years , rallying from a 21-3 halftime deficit to beat Kansas City in the wild-card round.
Against the defending Super Bowl champions, the two-touchdown underdogs jumped out to a surprising early lead but still trailed 21-7 at the half.
''We saw what happened last week in Kansas City, when Kansas City had a lead at the half similar to the one that we had,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ''Our guys did a real good job of kind of keeping their foot on the gas and keep pressing it.''
Mularkey said Mariota's leg prevented him from scrambling away from the New England rush. The Patriots sacked him four times in the third quarter - including back-to-back plays that left Tennessee with a third-and-31 from their own 2 - and three more in the fourth.
''They did a good job with the line game,'' Mularkey said. ''Marcus was hampered. Tough to get away.''
Mariota completed 22 of 37 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns in the game, both of them to Davis. He also ran four times for 37 yards.
But Tom Brady was even better in leading New England to its seventh consecutive AFC championship game, completing 35 of 53 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Danny Amendola caught 11 passes for 112 yards, Rob Gronkowski had six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown and James White scored twice, once running and one receiving.
The Patriots will host the AFC title game on Jan. 21 against the winner of Sunday's game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be Brady's 12th appearance in the conference championship.
''Obviously, this is the blueprint,'' Mariota said. ''New England has been in the playoffs consistently. They've won a bunch of championships and we can learn a lot from this, and I think we will.''
The Titans also committed 10 penalties in the game after a season in which they had the second-fewest in the NFL. One of the calls was for an offside that allowed the Patriots to avoid punting from their own end zone; they went on to score and extend the lead to 21-7.
''You can't make those mistakes against a really good team that's waiting for you to do it,'' said Mularkey, whose job was reportedly in jeopardy even after reaching the playoffs.
''They didn't make a lot of mistakes. That's why they've been successful all these years. You can't go and beat yourselves,'' he said. ''I'd like to see us play a complete game. ... We didn't.''
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2015, will move back to defensive end permanently in 2018. Beasley moved to linebacker in 2017 and had just five sacks in his third season in the league. Beasley will be better off strictly rushing the passer instead of dropping into coverage and spying the quarterback. While he may not return to 15 sacks like he did in 2016, his sack numbers should be back on the rise, making him more attractive in IDP leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers (knee) suffered a torn ACL in the Divisional Round loss to the Jaguars last weekend. It's a tough blow for Rogers, as he'll now be unlikely to start the 2018 season on time. The slot man took a big step backwards in his second season, catching only 18 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in 14 games. His struggles this year were mainly due to the presence of impressive rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. Rogers' injury is good news for Martavis Bryant, though, as he could see a bigger role with Rogers sidelined.
New England Patriots running backs Rex Burkhead (knee) and Mike Gillislee (knee) are questionable for Sunday's AFC Championship against Jacksonville. Burkhead was limited in practice all week. He was held out of the Divisional Round but looks on track to return. Gillislee is closer to returning than he was last week, but his status remains up in the air. Even if healthy, Gillislee is not a lock to be active.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette (ankle) was limited in practice all week and was taken off the final injury report for the AFC title game against the Patriots. Fournette bounced back good from his ankle aggravation in the Divisional Round. He managed three touchdowns to help beat the Steelers, but he was much less effective after returning after halftime. Fournette and Jacksonville's ground game must be effective this Sunday in order to keep Tom Brady off the field and spring the upset. Fournette will be a volume-based DFS play this weekend.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (hand) is listed as questionable for Sunday's AFC Championship game against Jacksonville. Brady confirmed he returned to practice Friday, but did not offer much on his status. Brady was also seen in gloves on both hands over the last two days, prompting some to think that he is managing an injury that is worse than expected. He may just be using gloves due to cold temperatures, but it remains to be seen if he will use them during the AFC title game against the Jaguars. Even still, Brady is expected to be fine for Sunday's matchup with Jacksonville.
Jacksonville Jaguars shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey could be matched up quite often with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the AFC title game with safety Tashaun Gipson (foot) questionable to play. "I'll do whatever is best for the team to help us get a win," Ramsey told WJXL-FM in Jacksonville, per Hays Carlyon of gridironnow.com. "Whether it's guarding anybody. It doesn't matter." However, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone gave no indication that Ramsey would cover Gronk. It depends on how Jacksonville wants to play things, but either way, Gronkowski will be by far the top fantasy tight end play in Championship Weekend.
Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said he sees a lot of Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota in quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and Helfrich also like's Trubisky's attractive skills and coachability. Helfrich coached Mariota at the University of Oregon. Helfrich will be tasked with improving Trubisky in his second NFL season. "Mitchell has a tight release," Helfrich said. "He's an accurate passer. They also have a couple of things similar that make them inaccurate. Their feet take them out of position. I sense from talking to a couple of offensive linemen, and this was unsolicited, when your offensive linemen are talking about how hard your quarterback works, that's a great sign." Trubisky mainly looked overmatched in his first NFL season, but to be fair, he didn't have much to work with in the passing game. If Chicago adds some decent pass catchers in the offseason, Trubisky should be able to take a step forward, but he's still more attractive in dynasty leagues than in redraft ones.
Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) remains in the concussion protocol, but head coach Mike Zimmer expects him to play against the Eagles in the NFL title game. Despite the head injury, all signs point to Sendejo being out there as the Vikes attempt to advance to the Super Bowl in their home dome. Sendejo's presence will make it even tougher on Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles in an already tough matchup.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (hand) declined to say if he will play in Sunday's AFC Championship game. Brady confirmed he returned to practice Friday, but did not offer much on his status. There should be more clarity when the Patriots release their injury report. Brady is expected to be fine for Sunday's matchup with Jacksonville.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (back) is questionable for Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Eagles. Thielen has been working through a low back issue all week. He is fully expected to play after practicing on a limited basis the last two days. Thielen may not be 100 percent but should be fine for his normal snaps.
New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson was arrested and charged with harm to a public servant/family, reckless driving, eluding police, and resisting arrest Friday morning in Florida. Anderson was arrested in Florida last offseason as well at a music festival. This one sounds a bit more serious, however, though little details are known at this point. Coming off a breakout 2017, this is the last thing Anderson needs.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (hand) was present for the start of practice Friday, and he wore red gloves on both hands for the second day in a row. However, Brady didn't participate in team drills, but he was able to make a fist with his right hand. Brady was seen at practice Thursday but was listed as not practicing. The media is making this a bigger deal than it actually is, and Brady is fully expected to play Sunday against the Jaguars in the AFC title game. He's likely just wearing gloves at practice the last few days because of the cold temperatures, although he could stick with them on Sunday in New England.
Jacksonville Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson (foot) is listed as questionable for the AFC title game against the Patriots, but he said earlier this week that he expects to play. Gipson missed practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, but he was able to practice Friday, giving him hope that he can play on Sunday. Gipson being inactive would weaken Jacksonville's elite secondary against quarterback Tom Brady and the Pats. Gipson hasn't missed a game since joining the Jaguars last season.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill is an impending free agent and is fully expected to move on from the Bengals. Beat writers Jim Owczarski and Paul Dehner put the chances of the Bengals re-signing Hill at one percent. Hill needed ankle surgery in November, ending his season, but he is expected to be fully healthy sometime this month. He had a big rookie season and scored 29 touchdowns his first three seasons, but Hill only averaged just 3.6 YPC his last three seasons, spanning 482 carries. Hill is still just 25 but is just an early-down, goal-line bruiser.
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is an impending free agent and the Cincinnati Enquirer puts the chances the Bengals re-sign Eifert at "10 percent." Eifert has said all options are on the table, admitting his lengthy injury history will likely cloud some things. He is recovering from a second back surgery in two years and also needed a recent knee scope. Eifert has missed 41-of-80 games in five seasons but was dominant in 2015 when healthy, proving to be a huge red-zone weapon. He is still just 27, but the body is breaking down. Eifert's free-agent case will be interesting to follow. He may have to take a one-year deal.
Ex-Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is interested in the Cardinals' offensive coordinator job, according to Arizona Sports' Mike Jurecki . Haley, of course, was the Cardinals' OC in 2007 and 2008 and went to the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald before landing the Chiefs' head coach job in 2009. Haley still has a home in the area, but the Cardinals do not currently have a head coach. Some have mentioned Haley as an option for Arizona's head gig, but that looks like a serious long shot. Haley reportedly has a "few options" on the table but is "going to wait for the right opportunity."
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell showed up five minutes before the walkthrough ended Saturday, Jan. 13, before the Steelers were beaten by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He and a coach were also late to report to the stadium before the game.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles is the first quarterback in NFL history to register a passer rating of 100 or more in each of his first two career playoff starts (minimum of 30 attempts), with the first one coming during the 2013 season and the most recent being the team's Divisional Round win Saturday, Jan. 13, against the Atlanta Falcons.
New England Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer is preparing to pitch in for the AFC title game against the Jaguars with Tom Brady (hand) nursing a hand injury, although a source said Brady's hand "should be OK" for Sunday. Hoyer took all the practice repetitions in practice Thursday with Brady sitting out. It'd be a huge shock if Brady isn't under center against the Jaguars. His jammed hand isn't believed to be serious, although he probably won't be able to pick apart the Jacksonville secondary like he did to the Titans in the Divisional Round.
The Tennessee Titans interviewed Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks for their head coaching vacancy on Thursday. He led the Panthers to a seventh-place finish in total defense in 2017, including third against the run and 18th against the pass. They also ranked third in the NFL in sacks and 11th in points allowed per game. Wilks is a highly-respected coach in the league with a history of strong defenses, but he has never held a head coaching position. Tennessee's defense could use some improvements, but so can their offense, especially quarterback Marcus Mariota.