FOXBOROUGH, Mass. >> Marcus Mariota threw for a touchdown to give the Tennessee Titans an early lead, and had another TD pass that was the final score of the game.
In between, he spent a lot of time trying to limp away from the New England Patriots rush.
One week after leading the Titans to victory in his first career playoff game, Mariota took his first postseason loss — and took it hard — absorbing eight sacks while the Patriots scored five touchdowns in a row on their way to a 35-14 victory in the AFC divisional round tonight.
“Man, embarrassed,” said Mariota, who sustained what coach Mike Mularkey said was a strained quadriceps muscle in the first quarter and went 44 minutes between scores.
“It felt like the momentum was on our side” after a 15-yard pass to Corey Davis gave the Titans a 7-0 lead, Mariota said. “They’re a team that’s been here before, and they didn’t blink an eye. They just stuck to their game plan and it worked out for them.”
Just two seasons after going 3-13 when Mariota was a rookie, the Titans (10-8) reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Last week, they earned their first postseason victory in 14 years , rallying from a 21-3 halftime deficit to beat Kansas City in the wild-card round.
Against the defending Super Bowl champions, the two-touchdown underdogs jumped out to a surprising early lead but still trailed 21-7 at the half.
“We saw what happened last week in Kansas City, when Kansas City had a lead at the half similar to the one that we had,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Our guys did a real good job of kind of keeping their foot on the gas and keep pressing it.”
Mularkey said the Saint Louis alum’s leg prevented him from scrambling away from the New England rush. The Patriots sacked him four times in the third quarter — including back-to-back plays that left Tennessee with a third-and-31 from their own 2 — and three more in the fourth.
“They did a good job with the line game,” Mularkey said. “Marcus was hampered. Tough to get away.”
Mariota completed 22 of 37 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns in the game, both of them to Davis. He also ran four times for 37 yards.
But Tom Brady was even better in leading New England to its seventh consecutive AFC championship game, completing 35 of 53 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Danny Amendola caught 11 passes for 112 yards, Rob Gronkowski had six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown and James White scored twice, once running and one receiving.
The Patriots will host the AFC title game on Jan. 21 against the winner of Sunday’s game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be Brady’s 12th appearance in the conference championship.
“Obviously, this is the blueprint,” Mariota said. “New England has been in the playoffs consistently. They’ve won a bunch of championships and we can learn a lot from this, and I think we will.”
The Titans also committed 10 penalties in the game after a season in which they had the second-fewest in the NFL. One of the calls was for an offside that allowed the Patriots to avoid punting from their own end zone; they went on to score and extend the lead to 21-7.
“You can’t make those mistakes against a really good team that’s waiting for you to do it,” said Mularkey, whose job was reportedly in jeopardy even after reaching the playoffs.
“They didn’t make a lot of mistakes. That’s why they’ve been successful all these years. You can’t go and beat yourselves,” he said. “I’d like to see us play a complete game. … We didn’t.”