Kevin Byard

Brady bullish in focus on Titans after drama-filled week

1 Comment

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Maybe the Tennessee Titans are coming up for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at the perfect time.

After a drama-filled week , the quarterback says his focus remains solely on football as his team prepares to host the Titans in Saturday’s divisional round.

During Brady’s tenure the Patriots are 6-1 against the Titans. He has 13 passing touchdowns and one interception in those games – his best touchdown to interception ratio against any opponent in his career.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

He also is 6-0 against Mike Mularkey-coached teams.

But that hasn’t changed the approach for Brady, who is preparing for his 35th playoff start in the aftermath of recent reports suggesting discord between himself, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft.

In a joint statement last week, all three men brushed aside any insinuation of strife at the top of one of the NFL’s jewel franchises. Brady reiterated on Thursday that his mind remains on the field.

“We do what we always do. We show up to work and try to do the best we can do,” he said. “We know there’s a lot at stake and I think everyone’s put a lot into it. It doesn’t really matter what happened outside of this facility.”

Patriots receiver Danny Amendola hasn’t noticed any change in Brady.

“He’s the ultimate professional and he (makes) his teammates better and he demands a lot,” Amendola said. “We all want to win for him, and we all want to play hard for him.”

Tennessee recognizes the challenge it faces against Brady. It opened the week as a 13-point underdog, and prior to last week hadn’t won a playoff game since the 2003 season.

That doesn’t mean the Titans fear the Patriots.

“It’s a playoff game, so it’s not like it’s the preseason where I can go out there, `Oh, it’s Brady,’ and I’m chillin,”‘ Tennessee All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said. “This is a playoff game. So I don’t really care if it was Joe Montana. You know what I’m saying? I’m trying to go out there and win the game. I want to make him look like (Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback) Blake Bortles if I can to try to catch a couple picks.

“Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but it’s a playoff game. I’m not really looking at it like that.”

The contrast in quarterbacks will be stark.

At age 40, Brady is the oldest remaining quarterback in the playoffs. The Titans have the youngest in 24-year-old Marcus Mariota. The 16-year age gap between them is the largest between starting quarterbacks in a playoff game in NFL history.

Since 2001, quarterbacks making their first or second career playoff start are 0-7 against New England.

“I think it just comes down to how well you play,” Brady said. “At the end of the day, it’s not about old guys are going to win or young guys are going to win, the home team, the road team. It’s really going to come down to execution. No one’s going to be able to do it for you.”

If the Titans have any hope of slowing down Brady, the X factor might be defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

With Belichick as head coach, he and LeBeau have faced off in the playoffs once: the 2004 AFC championship game that New England won in Pittsburgh, 41-27.

Brady had two touchdown passes in that game, but was also sacked twice.

“The one thing you got to try to do is not let him read you like a book, which he’s very adept at,” LeBeau said. “Whether you’re pressuring or whether you’re going coverage, if he knows where you’re going, he’s probably going to be pretty effective.”

Brady isn’t taking anything for granted.

“These are fun games to play in,” he said. “You’re out there, you’re in the position to succeed. Your coaches have put a lot on you. The team’s really relying on you. You’ve got to go out there and make the plays.”

AP Football Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

Jaguars QB Bortles says criticism will ‘probably never stop’

Leave a comment

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles‘ first postseason victory came with a hefty dose of criticism, maybe even more than ever before.

The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback handled it as well as he did Buffalo’s pass rush.

“It’ll probably never stop,” Bortles said Wednesday. “There’s people that think LeBron James sucks, so if that happens, I’m sure there will be a lot of people that always think I suck.”

The latest insults came from Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard and retired NFL quarterback Chris Simms.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Byard told the Tennessean this week he wants to make New England’s Tom Brady looks like Bortles. Byard intercepted two of Bortles’ passes in the regular-season finale in Nashville.

“This is a playoff game, so I don’t really care if it was Joe Montana,” Byard said. “You know what I’m saying? I’m trying to go out there and win the game. I want to make him look like Blake Bortles if I can and try to catch a couple picks. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but it’s a playoff game.”

Simms told The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on Tuesday that Bortles is 70th in his NFL quarterback rankings, below backups Chad Henne (Jacksonville), T.J. Yates (Houston) and Nathan Peterman (Buffalo).

Former Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli called into the show to defend Bortles, saying it’s “the most ignorant, asinine statement I’ve ever heard.”

None of it seemed to bother Bortles, who has been sullied all season .

Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey told a Nashville radio station last week that “as long as Bortles is back there, if the ballgame is in his hands, he’s going to choke.”

Bortles also has been publicly ripped by Houston defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle safety Earl Thomas and Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the past two months.

“Players or peers talking about you is a little new,” Bortles said last week.

Bortles’ performance against the Bills was far from his best.

He completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. He never settled into a rhythm, and with the game tied in the second half, he stopped throwing and starting scrambling. He finished with 88 yards on the ground, becoming the first quarterback since Atlanta’s Michael Vick in 2004 to win a playoff game with more rushing yards than passing.

“There’s two different ways to look at it,” Bortles said. “You kind of look at the numbers and look at the game and say, `You played terrible.’ Or you look at it and say, `Things weren’t going right here and you found a way to win and be efficient and move the ball and do different things.’ I think that’s how I feel about it. We didn’t have our A-game. I missed a couple throws. Things weren’t going well.

“But you know scrambling around and doing some different things, and guys making some plays, we found a way to score one more time than they did. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

The Jaguars (11-6) won the wild-card game 10-3, with the lone touchdown coming on Bortles’ 1-yard pass on a fourth-and-goal play, and advanced to play at second-seeded Pittsburgh (13-3) on Sunday.

Jacksonville beat the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh earlier this season. Bortles threw just one pass in the second half as the Jags dominated thanks to five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, and a season-high 231 yards rushing.

Bortles completed 8 of 14 passes for 95 yards, with an interception.

“Hopefully we can throw less,” Bortles said. “That would be awesome. Leonard goes off again and those guys up front play as well they did last time and we can run the ball up there and not have to throw at all. That was something that happened last time, but you never know. … It could be another one of those games or it could be you go up there and throw it 50 times.”

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Titans beat Jaguars 15-10, end playoff drought with AFC spot

Leave a comment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown and used his legs to help the Tennessee Titans end an eight-season playoff drought by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 15-10 Sunday to clinch an AFC wild-card berth.

The Titans (9-7) snapped a three-game skid in a game they needed to win or get some help with losses elsewhere to advance. They also posted their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2007 and 2008.

Mariota ran a season-high 10 times for 60 yards, the biggest a 13-yard scramble on third-and-5 at the 2:00 mark . Mariota also threw for 134 yards.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Derrick Henry took a screen pass from Mariota 66 yards for a TD in the second quarter, and Ryan Succop kicked three field goals.

The Titans also sacked Blake Bortles twice and forced four turnovers, two interceptions by Kevin Byard.

The Jaguars (10-6) clinched their first AFC South title a week ago when Tennessee lost to San Francisco. Coach Doug Marrone promised they came to win. Only left tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver Marqise Lee were scratched – both were on the injury report this week.

Yet they head into the postseason having lost two straight.

The Jaguars had a chance to win after Mariota lost his first fumble this season in the fourth quarter. Henry collided with Mariota on a handoff, popping the ball in the air. Yannick Ngakoue picked it up and ran 67 yards for a TD, pulling the Jaguars within 15-10 with 10:48 left.

But Byard got his second pick with 10 seconds remaining to seal the win.

The Titans led 6-3 when they forced two turnovers 42 seconds apart just before halftime.

Jaguars returner Jaydon Mickens signaled for a fair catch only to try blocking Taywan Taylor of the Titans as the ball arrived, and Phillip Supernaw recovered the bobble for Tennessee. On the next drive, Titans rookie cornerback Adoree Jackson punched the ball loose from Keelan Cole and Jayon Brown recovered. Succop capped each drive with a field goal, his second a 39-yarder as time expired for a 12-3 halftime lead.

HENRY’S CHANCE

The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner got his fourth career start and first this year with DeMarco Murray scratched with an injured right knee. Henry struggled in the first quarter and was tackled for too many losses. But Henry gave the Titans’ their lone TD when he took a screen on the second play of the second quarter for a 6-0 lead.

It was Henry’s first TD catch of his career. It was his third TD of 60 yards or longer this year, second in the NFL to Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill who has five.

INJURIES

Jaguars safety Barry Church hurt a hamstring, but he returned.

Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan left for a play when officials stopped action in the fourth quarter for an injury. He also returned and finished the game.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: Host AFC wild-card game for their first playoff game in Jacksonville since the AFC championship game in January 2000.

Titans: Hitting road for first playoff game since January 2009.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL.

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