Dishing out grades from the Patriots’ dominating 35-14 Divisional Round victory over the Titans while looking ahead to this coming Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the Jaguars.
Brady was his magnificent self against Tennessee, completing 35-of-53 passes for 337 yards, three touchdowns and zero picks. He finished with a sparkling 102.5 passer rating. He’ll need to be just as sharp this Sunday if the Pats want to advance as Jacksonville finished first in the NFL in just about every major pass defense category. Opposing quarterbacks averaged just 169.9 yards per game against the Jags defense this season. Grade: A+
Lewis continues to impress. While he finished with just 62 yards rushing on 15 carries, he helped out a whole lot in the pass game, catching nine balls for 79 yards. James White also returned Saturday, catching four balls for 29 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield. The Pats are at their best when they have a Kevin Faulk/Shane Vereen type who can catch balls from Brady in the flat. They now have two players capable of that in Lewis and White. Grade: A-
What has happened to Butler? Even when he is in good position, he still gets beat as evidenced by Titans wide receiver Corey Davis’ one-handed TD grab in the first quarter – which put the Titans up, 7-0. Jags QB Blake Bortles is not exactly Dan Marino in the mid-80s, but the fact remains that his offense hung 45 points on the Steelers in Pittsburgh Sunday. The Jags don’t have any stud receivers (Allen Hurns is their No. 1), so Bortles will be spreading the ball around. Bortles completed passes to nine different players Sunday against Pittsburgh. Will be interesting to see how Matt Patricia uses Butler this weekend. Grade: C-
The Pats’ out-of-the-ordinary signing of Gilmore in free agency last spring is finally paying off. Titans receivers that Gilmore was covering Saturday night came away completely empty-handed – as in he pitched a shutout. There’s no reason why Gilmore can’t blank the Jaguars as well. Grade: A+
Amendola’s teammates call him “playoff” due to his ability to come up big this time of year and he more than lived up to that billing on Saturday night, catching 11 balls for 112 yards against the Titans. Opposing teams are well aware that when Brady’s top offensive target – Rob Gronkowski – goes over 100 yards receiving the Pats went undefeated this season. Expect the Jags to be all over Gronkowski, allowing Amendola or a Chris Hogan to come up big. Grade: A
Cooks was targeted nine times Saturday night but only had three catches for 32 yards. Cooks hasn’t had over 80 yards receiving in a game since Nov. 26 against Miami, and hasn’t had a 100-plus yard outing since Nov. 19 against Oakland. The good money says he’ll break out in one of these games. He’s due. Grade: C+