When the eerie Foxborough fog lifted, it became clear that New England’s reign atop the NFL was ending.
Derrick Henry ensured that with the kind of dominating playoff performance usually reserved for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Henry rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown and Tennessee’s defense stymied Brady and perhaps ended his championship-filled New England career as the Titans earned a 20-13 wild-card victory Saturday night.
Brady vows to be back on an NFL field next season, but his contract with the Patriots is done.
“I love the Patriots,” the 42-year Brady said, adding about leaving the game after 20 seasons: “I would say it’s pretty unlikely, hopefully unlikely. I love playing football. I don’t know what it looks like moving forward.”
Doing the most moving forward Saturday night was Henry, who had a total of 184 yards rushing in two playoff games two years ago. He nearly got that against the NFL’s top-ranked defense in boosting the Titans (10-7) into the divisional round at No. 1 seed Baltimore.
“It’s a great win against a great team in a hostile environment,” Henry said on his 26th birthday. “Credit to my team. I’m just happy we were able to advance.
“We were just locked in. That was our mindset, just coming in here doing what we needed to do in all three phases, stay locked in no matter what happens in the game, and I feel like we did that.”
As that dense fog that shrouded Gillette Stadium for the first half dissipated, the Patriots, who made the last three Super Bowls and won two, stalled repeatedly with the ball. They no longer were the bullies on the block — Henry was.
As for this defeat, the Patriots’ fourth as a wild card, Brady noted: “They kind of stopped us in the first half and the second half and we couldn’t get the job done.”
There was no scoring in the second half, when All-Pro Brett Kern’s 58-yard punt that took up 10 seconds rolled down at the New England one-yard line. Brady then was picked by former Patriot Logan Ryan for a nine-yard touchdown to finish off the Patriots (12-5), who at one point this season were 8-0.
The game’s first three possessions wound up as three long scoring drives. A 29-yard screen pass to James White set up Nick Folk’s 36-yard field goal, but Tennessee answered with a 75-yard march built around Henry. He had no role on the touchdown, Tannehill’s pass to a Harvard man, tight end Anthony Firkser that made it 7-3.
New England counterpunched with its own 75-yard drive, taking temporary control of the game by victimizing Tennessee’s defense on the outside. The Titans looked slow trying to protect the flanks as Sony Michel broke off a 25-yard run and White had a 14-yarder.
Julian Edelman finished it with the first rushing touchdown of his 11 pro seasons, a five-yard dash to the unprotected left side of the Tennessee defense.
New England appeared primed for another touchdown after Mohamed Sanu’s 14-yard punt return set up the Patriots at the Titans’ 47, and they steadily drove to first and goal at the one.
All they got was Folk’s 21-yard field goal, as three runs failed. It was the 13th time the Patriots had first and goal at the one in a playoff game in the Brady era and the first time they failed to get a touchdown on the drive.
Tannehill led the NFL with a career-best 117.5 passer rating and by averaging 9.6 yards per pass attempt. But he didn’t do a whole lot Saturday night in his first postseason game: eight for 15 for 72 yards. His awful decision to put the ball up for grabs on the first play of the fourth quarter resulted in Duron Harmon’s interception.
But New England’s spotty attack flopped and never revived. That has not been unusual during the second half of the schedule.
Tannehill’s passing yards were the fewest for a starter since the Ravens’ Joe Flacco had 34 in a wild-card win against the Patriots 10 years ago.
Henry celebrated his birthday by getting the most rushing yards against a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team in the playoffs. He set an early tone by rushing for 49 of the Titans’ 75 yards on their opening touchdown drive. On the Titans’ second 75-yard touchdown march, all Henry did was gain every yard: 22 on a screen pass and 53 rushing, including a one-yard dive into the end zone for a 14-13 halftime lead. Those were Tennessee’s first points in the final two minutes of the opening half since Week 8.
Henry led the NFL in rushing this season with 1,540 yards in 15 games, the fourth-most rushing yards in franchise history. Henry also ran for 16 touchdowns, second most in team history.
After winning their first eight games, the Patriots struggled mightily in the second half of the schedule. They lost four games, and with the defeat by the Titans, they fell three times at home.