Patriots beat Titans 35-14 to head back to AFC title game
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By KYLE HIGHTOWER
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) First, the Patriots tuned out a week full of off-field drama. Then, they silenced the Titans to earn yet another trip to the AFC championship game.
Tom Brady passed for three touchdowns and 337 yards, and New England cruised past Tennessee 35-14 on Saturday night to advance to their seventh consecutive conference title game.
New England (14-3) will host the winner of Sunday's divisional matchup between Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.
It was Brady's 10th career postseason game with at least three TD tosses, moving him past Joe Montana for the most in NFL history. James White caught a touchdown pass and ran for another, and Danny Amendola had 11 catches for 112 yards.
New England's victory came on the heels of a week filled with turmoil following reports of discord involving Brady, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft.
None of that showed on the field Saturday.
"I've been around long enough," Brady said. "So, 18 years, there's so many nice things said about me. It just goes with the territory."
The Titans (10-8) took an early 7-0 lead, but New England scored 35 straight points to take control.
Marcus Mariota completed 22 of 37 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, but was under duress for most of the second half. He was sacked eight times, a Patriots playoff record.
Coach Mike Mularkey said after the game his quarterback strained a quadriceps in the first quarter.
"It had an impact," Mularkey said. "We had to get out of some of our scheme with him."
New England also held Derrick Henry to just 28 yards rushing on 12 carries.
The Titans came back from an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat the Chiefs 22-21 in the wild-card round last week - the largest comeback on the road in the Super Bowl era. But the Patriots didn't give them a chance for an encore.
Leading 14-7, the Patriots stretched their lead to 14 just before halftime thanks to a trio of careless penalties on the Titans.
Tennessee initially forced a three-and-out, but gave up a first down via a fourth-and-5 neutral zone infraction on Brynden Trawick before New England's punt attempt.
Armed with a new set of downs, Brady went to work moving the Patriots down the field with a steady diet of short passes. The Titans helped along the way with illegal contact and unnecessary roughness penalties. It eventually culminated in a 4-yard TD pass from Brady to Chris Hogan in the back of the end zone that made it 21-7.
Brady threw a short shovel pass to White, who ran it in from the 5-yard line to make it 7-7 early in the second quarter.
The Patriots appeared to have a touchdown three plays earlier, when Dion Lewis caught a pass from Brady and was tackled by Wesley Woodyard at the 19. Lewis landed on top of the defender, then got up and continued to the end zone.
The officials initially ruled that he had never been down and called it a touchdown. But replays showed Lewis' butt hit the ground at the 19.
Corey Davis made a one-handed catch on a 15-yard pass from Mariota in the corner of the end zone to give the Titans a 7-0 lead. Mariota had a pair of 11-yard runs to help set up the score.
Davis added an 11-yard TD reception with 1:55 left in the game - and the Titans' season.
Titans: Right tackle Jack Conklin walked off on his own power after injuring a knee in the first quarter. He did not return. ... Tight end Jonnu Smith was carted off in the third quarter with a right leg injury.
The Titans had 85 penalties in the regular season - the second-fewest in the NFL.
They were flagged 10 times for 62 yards on Saturday, just the second time they had 10 or more this season.
MOVING ON UP
Gronkowski finished with six catches for 81 yards and touchdown. It was his 10th career postseason TD. He's tied with five others for third all-time. But it's the most for a tight end.
Gronk also moved into second all-time for a tight end with 835 postseason receiving yards. He passed Keith Jackson, and only Dallas Clark is ahead of him.
The Patriots will play the winner of Sunday's matchup between the Jaguars and Steelers in the AFC championship game.
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Updated January 14, 2018