Comeback Kings: Patriots thrive at late-game playoff rallies

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) Tom Brady is the comeback king in the playoffs.

From his past two Super Bowl wins to the AFC championship game rally against Jacksonville that got the Patriots to the NFL’s biggest stage for the third in four seasons, no quarterback has engineered more late-game playoff comebacks than Brady.

But he is not alone. Whether it was Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round against Kansas City earlier this postseason, or Russell Wilson against Green Bay in (2015) or Andrew Luck against the Chiefs the previous year, there have been as many playoff comebacks from at least 10 points down in the fourth quarter the past five seasons as there were the previous 26 seasons.

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“What happens is instead of playing the team, they start playing the clock. Sometimes you win and sometimes you go against a bad boy like Tom Brady and you get burned,” former Colts receiver and current NFL Network analyst Reggie Wayne said. “A lot of that falls onto the coaches. The players are going to run what the coaches call.”

Whether it’s Atlanta failing to run the ball enough late in last year’s Super Bowl that helped the Patriots rally from 28-3 down to win in overtime or Seattle’s decision to pass at the goal line instead of hand it to Marshawn Lynch back in 2015, questionable coaching decisions have contributed to some of those comebacks.

But nobody is better at exploiting those mistakes than Brady and the Patriots. He has four playoff wins in games he trailed by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter, including the “Tuck Rule” game against Oakland in 2002. No other quarterback has led more than one such comeback in playoff history.

“There’s a great belief no matter what the circumstances, that we have enough to overcome it,” Brady said. “I don’t think we want to try to overcome that again this year. That was pretty tough to do. Hopefully we can get a lead, play from ahead, play on our terms.”

The Patriots are comfortable when that happens. They are 6-6 in the playoffs when trailing after three quarters under Brady and coach Bill Belichick, while the rest of the NFL has a 27-140 record in that span with only Russell Wilson and Eli Manning having more than two fourth-quarter comebacks with four each.

Not that it is by design.

“That whole comeback thing is overrated,” said NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest, who won three Super Bowl titles as Brady’s teammate in New England. “Players can’t go in and say, `Hey, we want to win this game in dramatic fashion, be down 11 with eight minutes to go and come back and have the crowd go crazy.’ You want to be in control, play a certain way and be in front. Because that changes how you play the game.”

The biggest deficit overcome to win a Super Bowl before last season was just 10 points and the Patriots were the first team to overcome a deficit that big in the second half when they did it against the Seahawks three years ago.

The only other teams to come back from 10 points down to win a Super Bowl faced those deficits early in the second quarter with New Orleans rallying against Indianapolis in 2010 and Washington against Denver in 1988.

Brady’s postseason passer rating when trailing in fourth quarter the past four years is a staggering 121.2, compared to 75.6 for the rest of the NFL.

In last year’s Super Bowl comeback, the Falcons appeared to tire and struggled to generate pressure, sending more than four pass rushers on just two of 24 pass plays in the fourth quarter.

The Jaguars also only brought more than four rushers on two of 15 fourth-quarter pass plays in the AFC title game when New England came back from 20-10 down to win 24-20.

“What teams do wrong is they go zone,” Wayne said. “He’s going to pick zone apart all day, every day. He’s going to spread you out and they’re the best at creating mismatches.”

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Patriots beat Titans 35-14 to head back to AFC title game

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady passed for three touchdowns and 337 yards, and the New England Patriots cruised past the Tennessee Titans 35-14 on Saturday night to advance to their seventh consecutive AFC championship game.

New England (14-3) will host the winner of Sunday’s divisional matchup between Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.

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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.

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.

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Titans’ Henry looks to build on postseason debut vs Patriots

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Derrick Henry isn’t a big or brash talker. That’s what made the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner calling his performance “kind of soft” in Tennessee’s regular-season finale stand out.

The massive running back sure made up for that with an NFL postseason debut for the record books.

Getting Henry to acknowledge any change in his own confidence or being pleased after a big game is as tough as tackling him in the open field.

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“I’m just trying to play better every week,” Henry said . “I’m going to get another chance to play – it’s a great team in a good environment – so just making sure I’m doing all the right things this week.”

Henry rebounded from a game in which he ran for 51 yards by setting a franchise playoff record with 191 yards from scrimmage, helping the Titans rally for a 22-21 victory over Kansas City in the wild-card round. He topped the previous mark set by Billy Cannon in January 1961 with the best performance by a running back in the playoffs in at least a decade.

Now it’s up to Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (13-3) to slow down Henry on Saturday night in their AFC divisional game. Belichick says everyone on defense has to do his job.

“Henry has got a ton of skill, and he’s got power, good vision,” Belichick said. “He can certainly run inside and break tackles, he’s a tough runner, he can get tough runs. But, he’s very athletic in the open field. He’s fast, he can cut back, he can get to space. He’s broken off a lot of long runs, running plays, screens.”

Against Jacksonville on Dec. 31, Henry made up for a rough day running by taking a screen 66 yards for a touchdown . But his first three carries went backward, including a 12-yard loss that came dangerously close to a safety.

“He saw some of the things that he missed by trying to bounce some things,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “He’s had a lot of success bouncing some runs, but at some point you’ve got to hit some of these holes that are there, and they’re not big all the time. I think he saw that, and obviously he’s a quick, fast learner.”

The second-year running back out of Alabama bounced back with a career-high 156 yards, just shy of Eddie George’s franchise-record 162 in a postseason game.

Henry also had 85 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 35-yard touchdown , for the NFL’s third-best rushing performance in the fourth quarter of a playoff game since the 1991 season. Only LeGarrette Blount (114 yards for the Patriots vs. the Colts on Jan. 11, 2014) and Derek Loville (97 yards for the Broncos against the Jaguars on Dec. 27, 1997) have been better in that span.

Finishing is what the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry does best. Only the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt had more yards rushing (474) in the NFL in the fourth quarter this season than Henry (390), who averaged a league-best 6.09 yards per carry over the final 15 minutes.

Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says Henry is powerful with a dangerous stiff-arm.

“If it’s a one-on-one tackling situation, it’s extremely difficult to get him down in that instance,” Patricia said.

Henry teamed with quarterback Marcus Mariota to pile up a franchise-record 202 yards rushing for a postseason game. The Patriots ranked 31st, allowing 4.7 yards per rushing play.

DeMarco Murray already has been declared out for a third straight game for Tennessee, leaving the backfield to Henry.

“It’s my job trying to help this team win games,” Henry said. “It’s always fun when you’re playing football.”

NOTES: LG Quinton Spain (back) practiced fully after missing the last two days. CB Logan Ryan (ankle) practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker