It is the Titans and the Patriots in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, but that will not be the story this week.
This week the national media will simply point to this game as Mike Vrabel versus Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
“I’m not going to be out there trying to pass rush Tom (Brady).” Vrabel said Monday, “This is about the players and the preparation. This isn’t about my career, my eight years in New England. This is about the Titans and our preparation to go up there and face a team that’s won three Super Bowls in the last five years. They’re 8-0 at home in that span. They’ve got the number one defense, they’ve got the best coach, they’ve got the best quarterback, so it’s quite a challenge.”
Still, despite time with the Steelers, Chiefs and Texans Vrabel is best known as a Patriot. Everyone sees him as a Patriot. That point is driven home with his close relationship to Tom Brady and the festive mood at St. Thomas Sports Park when the Patriots came in for joint practices last summer.
There has to be some irony in Vrabel meeting his former head coach in his playoff debut, “No. They’ve had a lot of success.” Vrabel countered.
“A lot of success” really does not seem to cover it. The Patriots have owned the last 20 years, winning six Super Bowls and losing three. Yes, that is nine and Vrabel was a part of winning three of them.
The Titans have seen a lot of the Patriots in recent years, losing 35-14 in the 2017 playoffs in Foxboro. Then in 2018 Vrabel led them to a 34-10 pasting of the Pats in Nashville.
They got up close and personal for two days in August though when the Patriots and Titans went head to head in practice before their preseason game.
It was over four months ago, but Vrabel said it is not meaningless, “I don’t think irrelevant. I think that we learned a lot. Those are good practices, they’re competitive practices. They were competitive practices. Some of the personnel, a lot of it’s the same. What you saw in those practices was a lot of base schemes in all three phases, trying to improve technique and fundamentals. Some of those same plays have carried through most of the year. Some of them may show up on Saturday night, but there’ll be a lot of new things and a lot of new players on both teams.”
The Titans are not even close to being the same team that hosted the Patriots in those sweltering days. Marcus Mariota has been replaced by Ryan Tannehill has a quarterback, Cameron Wake, Delanie Walker, and Malcolm Butler are all on injured reserve and a struggling offense is now exploding.
“Every team is different. The goal for us has always been to continue to improve. I think that we’ve done that in some areas, and I think that in other areas we need to do a better job. That’s how this league goes.” Vrabel said.
The Patriots have also changed. Gone are the days of Tom Brady’s aerial bombardment. These are not Vrabel’s Patriots, but they are still 12-4 and they are still dangerous.
The thing is, so are Vrabel’s Titans.