The Patriots got out to an early lead and battled it out against a resilient Tennesee Titans team that put up a good fight despite missing many of their best players. New England's defense forced two big fumbles and an interception in the end zone that helped keep Tennesee at bay, as the Patriots closed out the win, 36-13.
Mac Jones passed for over 300 yards for the second time in his career as New England took to the air to get around the vaunted Titans run defense that showed up and played as advertised. Jones was able to find holes in the Titans' zone coverage for most of the game and it resulted in the most productive passing afternoon of the young quarterback's career.
Here are the key takeaways from the Patriots' sixth-straight win!
The Patriots got just the kind of start they'd like to draw up, beginning by deferring the opening kickoff, forcing a quick three-and-out, followed by a quality punt return by Gunner Olszewski and then capping things off with a touchdown-scoring drive.
Matt Judon picked up another sack, extending his career-high to 10.5, while the offense got two key third-down conversions, the first on a screen pass to Brandon Bolden that got them inside the 10-yard-line and then a third-down dime from Mac Jones to Kendrick Bourne for the score. It was an excellent play both by Jones, who stared down an oncoming free rusher and Bourne, who made an outstanding contested catch against Kevin Byard in coverage.
The Titans chipped in with a handful of penalties in the opening frame, but the Patriots were ready to go in all three phases and it helped them earn an early lead in the contest.
Mac takes to the air
With the Patriots rushing attack largely contained in the game, Mac Jones had one of his better games of the season while passing the ball.
It was an interesting development for the offense, as their running backs have been key cogs for the offense this season, easily topping 100 rushing yards in each of the last seven games. However, the Titans have allowed just two 100-yard rushing days for their opponents this season and their performance took the Patriots offense a bit out of their comfort zone, at least early on before the Pats found some stride to break 100 yards late in the game.
But even with the run game sputtering early on, New England's passing offense was up to the challenge as far as getting into Titans territory.
The offense's red-zone execution wasn't quite on point though, as Jones found Bourne for the first touchdown but misfired on another opportunity in the second quarter, while also missing an open Hunter Henry in the end zone late in the second quarter. The offense would hit a similar speed bump on the opening drive of the third quarter, settling for a fourth-straight field goal.
Bourne would strike again to break New England out of their stalled third-down performance, taking a 41-yard catch-and-run up the sideline for a touchdown to extend the Patriots lead to 26-13 in the third quarter and break the game open.
For the game, the Patriots offense would finish 2-of-5 in the red zone and 4-of-10 on third down. They were productive on early downs and in the middle of the field, but the lack of finish in the big situations kept this game close.
Takeaways cover spotty run defense
After a flawless three-and-out to start the game, the Patriots defense allowed the Titans to find their stride on offense with some sustained drives, though those were undercut by a missed extra point and a missed field goal in the first half that helped New England maintain their lead.
Overall, the Patriots defense fell back to earth in this one after a red-hot stretch, allowing some surprising plays from a battered Titans offense that capitalized on some breakdowns. They gave up over 200 yards rushing for the first time this season, while the Titans broke 200 rushing yards for their first time this season as well.
Takeaways were once again the difference. As the Titans were putting together another quality drive near the end of the first half, Davon Godchaux forced a fumble and Kyle Dugger recovered it as the tide shifted back into the Patriots favor. But it wouldn't last long, as the Titans would get the ball back one more time and rip off a 68-yard draw on third-and-3 for a touchdown just before halftime. It was the kind of big-play breakdown that has been absent for most of the season against the Pats D.
The defense looked like they were picking up where they left off in the third quarter, allowing a 34-yard run by D'Onta Forman, before J.C. Jackson punched the ball out and Jalen Mills recovered it for the defense's second takeaway of the game. Jackson would strike again with the Titans on the edge of the end zone in the fourth quarter and going for it on 4th-and-2, picking off his seventh pass of the year after a Devin McCourty tip to give New England their third takeaway of the game.
Their ball-hawking ways bailed them out in this game and allowed the offense to put enough points up to pull away, but overall it was a surprisingly flat performance against the run and it allowed the Titans to hang around.
The Patriots are 8-4
With their sixth-straight win, the Patriots remain close to the top of the AFC standings and re-take the lead in the AFC East as they prepare to face the Buffalo Bills for the first time this season on Monday Night Football. It wasn't quite the dominant effort some might've expected with the Titans' roster so reduced by injuries, but at this point in the year, the win is all that matters.
The defense's takeaways and Mac Jones's solid passing performance were the highlights of the game, as J.C. Jackson continues his torrid pace and Kendrick Bourne continues to make more and more standout plays.
Now, all eyes turn towards Buffalo, as the Pats and Bills will meet twice in the next four weeks, two huge contests that will likely determine who wins the division and who is headed on the road in the playoffs.