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 while Tennessee’s defense stymied Brady and perhaps ended his championship-filled New England career with a 20-13 wild-card victory Saturday night.
“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.
Six-time champ Brady’s contract is up and the 42-year-old quarterback could well be headed elsewhere, including retirement.
“I just came off the field,” Brady said when asked about his future, but added that it is pretty unlikely he will retire.
“There is nobody who has had a better career than me,” he said. “I am very blessed.”
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.”
Meanwhile, the Titans (10-7) are headed next week to Baltimore, the league’s top team.
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 1. Brady then was picked by former Patriot Logan Ryan for a 9-yard touchdown to finish off the Patriots (12-5), who at one point 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 5-yard dash to the unprotected left side of the Tennessee D.
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 1.
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 1 in a playoff game in the Brady era and the first time they failed to get a TD 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: 8 of 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.