Coming off of six straight wins, the Patriots were likely hoping to head into the bye with one final victory before the break against the Titans, but Tennessee spoiled any chances of that with a 34-10 blowout win over New England on Sunday.
The Patriots seemingly had no answers for the Titans on both sides of the football, with former Patriot and Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel’s group outplaying New England from start to finish in a game where it never felt like they were going to get back in it. Sixty minutes later, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick walked away with their third loss of the season, ruining any hope they had in potentially heading into the bye on a high note.
Here are some things we came away with from this one.
1) Vrabel knew how to disrupt the offense – Getting pressure up the middle has always been a recipe for success for opposing defenses and Vrabel’s defense did a terrific job of doing just that. They spent the entire afternoon making Brady miserable, forcing him to step up while throwing off New England’s timing and never allowing them to get into a rhythm.
New England finished Sunday’s game a dismal 3-of-15 on third down, primarily because they didn’t have any success on early downs. Brady was just 7-of-14 for 37-yards on 2nd down, putting the Patriots offense in 3rd-and-6 or longer on 11 of their 15 attempts, including 7 of 3rd-and-10 or more. That led to Brady finishing 3-of-8 throwing the football on third down on the afternoon, causing problems with an offense that before Sunday had put up 38 or more points in five of their last six games during their six-game winning streak.
Vrabel credited Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees for Tennessee’s success, with Pees having had similar success making things tough on the Patriots during his time in Baltimore.
“I can’t give enough credit to Dean (Pees), his staff, and most importantly the players,” said Vrabel after their win. “Dean (Pees) had them ready to go. They were prepared, they weren’t caught off guard, we were lined up, we didn’t hand them anything.”
That’s certainly true. Between Tennessee’s game plan and injuries to both tackles Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon, it ended up being a recipe for disaster that will obviously be on their minds until they take the field in two weeks.
Josh Gordon and the offense couldn’t get anything going Sunday.
2) Not Brady’s Best Day – With the Titans getting pressure on Brady, it didn’t take long for frustration to set in and for Brady to uncharacteristically begin falling apart.
With Tennessee’s defense coming in hard up the middle and fighting off blitz pick-ups, Brady kept trying to move around and evade the rush and as the game went on, it was clearly affecting him. Brady had several attempts where no one was near him where he wasn’t stepping into his throws while either over or underthrowing his targets. He also had a couple of pass attempts where he threw deep and to a spot where no one was (but where someone was likely supposed to be), which generally stems from frustration and it’s a problem that tends to show itself in games like this one.
The worst was during the second quarter when Tennessee held him to just 6-of-14 (42.9%) throwing the football, which saw him trying to force the ball into both Josh Gordon (0-for-4 over that span) and James White (1-for-3). The Titans went into the half up 24-10 and ended on a high note, dropping Brady for a 7-yard sack to close out the second quarter heading into the locker room.
The misery continued for Brady into the second half, with the Titans dropping him for a 5-yard sack on third down on New England’s first possession, and then shutting him down on their next drive after he connected with Gordon on a 23-yard pass that put them in Tennessee territory. However, he lost Dwayne Allen to injury on the outside and that hurt their blocking given that it was a group that was already in tough shape injury-wise. Brady would later come up short while trying to hit Jacob Hollister on a 3rd-and-4 after Hollister was blanketed and couldn’t haul in a pass that slipped through his fingers.
Tennessee then put together a 10 play, 78-yard drive that ended in a 31-yard field goal that put them up 17 at 27-10 late in the third quarter.
It didn’t get any better and the Patriots were shut out over the final two quarters, with Brady eventually giving way to Brian Hoyer after the game was well in hand for the Titans. The veteran QB admitted after the game that Tennessee did a good job of making life tough between the pressure and the coverage in the secondary. Put those two things together, along with the fact they were trying to play from behind, and it was just too much to overcome.
“I think it’s probably a mix of both. It’s good rush and good coverage,” said Brady. “They had a good plan and they did a good job of executing it. When you play from behind all day, it’s not very ideal. We just didn’t play well enough to make enough plays to score the touchdowns we needed to. It was just a bad day.”
It also didn’t help that Brady kept forcing the football to Gordon, with the quarterback hitting him just 4 times on 12 attempts. Left out of the offense was Chris Hogan, who saw just one target and was clearly frustrated on a 4th down attempt late in the contest after he had beaten Malcolm Butler for a potential touchdown but didn’t get the football. Instead, Brady threw incomplete to Julian Edelman.
Only Brady knows the reasons for some of his throws and even Belichick declined to discuss Brady’s performance after simply saying, “You’ll have to ask Tom.”
Unfortunately, they’ll just have to get back to work when they return from their break before they face the Jets, who were blown out by the Bills 41-10 Sunday.
Mariota had his way against New England’s secondary. (USA TODAY Images)
3) Rough Day for Gilmore – One player who the Patriots don’t normally have to worry about is Stephon Gilmore, but Tennessee went after him with pretty good success early in the first half after they mounted an early lead.
Following a 58-yard kickoff return to open the game, the Titans went to receiver Corey Davis early and often. Davis caught a 24-yard reception on their first play from scrimmage that helped get them deep in New England territory to set up their first touchdown and then drew two pass interference penalties after beating Gilmore on the next drive, the last of which was declined after Davis scored a 23-yard touchdown against him.
Tight end Jonnu Smith beat him for a 29-yard pick-up to start their next drive, which led to a 33-yard field goal that put the Titans up 17-3 and put the Patriots on their heels as they spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get back in the game.
Gilmore admitted after the game that there wasn’t one particular thing that Tennessee did that made the match-up difficult. They just didn’t play well enough defensively to give them a chance.
“They did a little bit of everything,” said Gilmore. “They ran the ball, passed the ball. I just think we didn’t play good as a whole.”
4) Positive return for Michel – The return of Sony Michel was relatively positive, although the rookie seemed a little hampered after carrying 11 times for 31-yards (2.8 avg). Part of that had more to do with New England’s issues on their offensive line, but despite that, Michel had just 2 carries where he didn’t pick up a yard.
Unfortunately, Michel carried just 4 times in the second half as the Titans pulled away, forcing the Patriots to be one-dimensional against a defense that continued making life tough on them. But the good news is Michel seemed to come out of this game without any setbacks, which will hopefully help the offense over its final six games.
Michel said after the game that he “felt good” and that the biggest problem on Sunday was just the fact they couldn’t get into a rhythm after they kept dealing with negative plays offensively.
“We had some plays, we had some not so good plays,” said Michel. “It was just a mixture of both, and it is just hard to get into a rhythm when you have so many not so good plays.”
Belichick and his staff have their work cut out for them.
5) The Patriots now have serious questions heading into their final six games – One thing that Sunday’s loss does is create some questions and cast some doubt about New England’s chances heading into the rest of the season.
At 7-3, there’s zero margin for error over the Patriots’ final six games after the Chiefs won yet again on Sunday, improving them to 9-1 on the season. Given how they’ve been playing (they beat Arizona 26-14 Sunday) recently, New England will now have to hope Kansas City drops two of their final six games if the Patriots have any hope of not playing in Arrowhead in January.
But winning out will be no easy task. They’ll travel to MetLife Stadium against the Jets in two weeks, followed by a home game against the Vikings, a game down in Miami against the Dolphins, a trip to Pittsbugh to battle the Steelers and then they’ll close out the season against the Bills and Jets at home during their final two games.
In order to do that, they’ll need Rob Gronkowski to suddenly get healthy and play at a Gronk-like level. They’ll need more production from Chris Hogan. They’ll need even more from Julian Edelman, who even with 9 receptions for 104 yards still looks like a player who is getting his legs back under him. Brady has said on multiple occasions during their recent winning streak that they weren’t playing to their potential and Sunday ended up being the setback that you could essentially see coming given some of the problems they’ve been able to mask in recent weeks.
Edelman probably said it best after the game after saying it’s a game that they’re definitely going to need to learn from. The problems they have are fixable and if they do, they’ve got enough talent to make another push. If they don’t, it’s going to be a tough stretch because things certainly aren’t going to get any easier.
“You better learn from a game like this, because the weeks get harder and harder,” said Edelman. “That’s a good football team. They’re well coached and have good players. You tip your hat to them, but we got to go out and we’ve got to watch this film and we’ve got to fix it because this is when you start separating or you start falling behind.”
For now, Edelman said they’re left with a bad taste in their mouths that will hopefully motivate everyone to improve.
“Well, I mean, we got a bye week, so you’re going to go into that bye week with a dirty taste in your mouth. So, you could either do well from it or you could tank it. So, we go out and take advantage of it this week, and I’m sure our coaches are going to have us ready. Guys going to be out there fiery and it’s up to us.”
The Patriots will play their next game in two weeks down at MetLife Stadium against the Jets on November 25th at 1pm ET.
Posted Under: 2018 Patriots Regular Season