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Game Observations: Titans dominate in Nashville

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The Patriots six-game winning streak came to a crashing halt in Nashville as the Titans dominated the Patriots in every phase of the game, coming away with a 34-10 victory.

New England heads into the bye at 7-3 and remains on top of the AFC East, but the Patriots will have two weeks to shake off the stink of a disappointing performance.

Here are some random thoughts from the Week 10 defeat.

-The offense received a boost from the return of Sony Michel. The rookie running back had been on the shelf since suffering a knee injury on the first play of the second quarter in New England’s 38-31 win over Chicago in Week 7. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier in the week that Michel was on track to play against the Titans provided that he had a good week of practice. He was limited each day and listed as questionable but was able to go. Michel was largely irrelevant, however, as the Patriots fell behind early and he never got untracked. He finished with 11 carries for 31 yards.

-The Patriots were once again without Rob Gronkowski, who made the trip to Nashville with his teammates but was not able to go due to ankle and back injuries. Gronkowski has now missed three of the last four games, but there were some indications that perhaps the team was taking a cautious approach with the All-Pro tight end. With the Patriots set to enjoy the bye next week, it’s possible that Bill Belichick decided to play it safe and offer Gronkowski an extra week to prepare himself for the stretch drive. Schefter’s report about Michel was less optimistic about Gronkowski. After practicing all week and traveling with the team, it appears the team opted for added rest. There has been a growing line of thought around the Patriots offense suggesting the big tight end has become a luxury and is no longer pertinent to winning. Based on Sunday’s work in Nashville, that strange view may need some rethinking.

-Right guard Shaq Mason also missed the game, his second straight, due to a calf injury. That left Ted Karras back in the starting lineup between David Andrews and Marcus Cannon. The remainder of the inactive list included Derek Rivers, Kenjon Barner, newcomer Obi Melifonwu, Keion Crossen and the recently re-signed Matt Tobin. The injury bug – or at least an actual bug of some sort – continued to impact the offensive line as Trent Brown was forced to leave the game periodically with an illness. Brown missed two days of practice earlier in the week and went to the sideline late in the first half. He was able to return but did not finish the game. Cannon also was forced out of the lineup early in the second half, and each tackle was replaced by LaAdrian Waddle.

-On the positive side, the Patriots welcomed Jacob Hollister back to the lineup. The backup tight end missed the last three games (six overall) due a hamstring injury. Also, newcomer Albert McClellan, who was signed earlier in the week, was active in his first game with New England. The veteran linebacker saw action on special teams in Nashville.

-The Patriots offense got a bit cute early in the second quarter and it almost cost them points. Facing a third-and-two from the Titans 12, the offense raced to the line in an effort to catch Tennessee unprepared. With the defense still adjusting to get lined up properly, Tom Brady tried to sneak his way for the first down but was stuffed by the interior of the Titans defense, creating a fourth-and-two. But trailing 17-3 early, Belichick opted to go for it and the gamble paid off when Brady hit James White for 10 yards down to the 2. Two plays later, James Develin plunged in from the 1 to cut the lead in half.

-Marcus Mariota entered the game having thrown just five touchdown passes all season and just one in his previous 27 quarters. But the much-maligned Titans quarterback was able to throw a pair of scoring passes in the first quarter alone as Tennessee took control early. He was willing to pick on Stephon Gilmore and had plenty of success doing it. Gilmore allowed a 23-yard touchdown to Corey Davis, and the corner was also flagged twice for pass interference penalties trying to contain Davis, although the second came on the touchdown.

-Gilmore struggled against Davis and easily could have drawn flags on two other attempts in the first half trying to prevent completions. He later allowed a huge 20-yard completion to Davis on third-and-14 to the Patriots 20. Davis continued his dominance in the second half and finished with seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. At one point in the second half the Patriots appeared to switch to be more zone looks and things didn’t improve then either.

-The Patriots defense took a huge step back after two solid weeks of work against Buffalo and Green Bay. Tennessee has been unable to move the ball consistently all season long but they did so with ease in Nashville. The Titans approached 400 yards of offense and put a season-high 34 points on the board. The run defense, which has been on the rise, struggled against the two-pronged attack of Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry. Lewis finished with 57 yards on 20 carries, which was a bit deceiving because many of his unsuccessful runs came late when Tennessee was running out the clock. Henry was much more productive with 58 yards on 11 carries including a touchdown out of the Wildcat to finish the scoring. Lewis, who was outspoken after signing with Tennessee following his stint with the Patriots, was quite satisfied after the game. “Hell yeah it’s personal,” he said. “That’s what happens when you go cheap. You get your ass kicked.”

-Not much of anything went right for the Patriots offense but there was one sequence that was particularly frustrating in the fourth quarter. Trailing 27-10 and facing a third-and-seven, Josh McDaniels dialed up some trickeration with mixed results. Brady handed to White, who pitched to a racing Julian Edelman coming around the right side. Edelman was pressured and leaped to throw a pass back to Brady, who stumbled over his own feet and landed a yard short of the first down. On fourth-and-one from the 37, Marcus Cannon committed a false start to create fourth-and-six. Brady’s pass to Edelman was then knocked away by Logan Ryan, and for all intents and purposes the game was over.

-Brady suffered through his worst game of the season, completing just 21 of 41 passes for 254 yards and no touchdowns. It was the second time in three weeks he was held without a touchdown and has just one in that span. At one point with Brady at the helm the Patriots went seven straight drives without registering a single point, which is the longest stretch without points for New England since 2015 in a loss to Philadelphia. Brady was under some pressure early in the game and it seemed to throw him out of rhythm. Wesley Woodyard beat Karras and White for an early sack, and Brady was frequently off target with his throws for the remainder of the game.

-Late in the first half with the Patriots trailing 24-10, Belichick had an interesting decision to make. With just two seconds left and the ball at the Titans 40, the Patriots passed up a potential 60-yard field goal and decided to try a Hail Mary. That decision didn’t pan out as Brady was buried under an avalanche of Titans defenders to close the half.

-Edelman was one of the few bright spots on offense but even that came with an asterisk. He finished with nine catches for 104 yards on 12 targets. He was the only consistent performer on that side of the ball, but when Ryan knocked down that fourth-down pass thrown in his direction Edelman limped off the field. He was taken to the Patriots locker room with an ankle injury and no further update was given, although the wideout did speak with the media after the game.

-Josh Gordon finished with four catches for 81 yards but that production was somewhat deceptive as he was targeted 12 times. He had a pair of costly drops on the opening drive that ended in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. CBS color analyst Dan Fouts pointed toward the dislocated finger Gordon suffered last week against Green Bay as a factor in the drops but the passes sailed right through the wideout’s hands and did not appear to be the result on an injury.

-One final note on the passing game: Chris Hogan has been virtually non-existent recently. Last week against the Packers he was targeted twice and failed to register a catch. On Sunday he was only targeted once and again went without a catch. On a day where the passing game struggled, Hogan wasn’t able to pick up the slack.

-Brady and the Patriots dropped to 14-3 in their game before the bye week. The last time the Patriots had lost in such a situation was back in 2005 in a 28-20 loss at Denver.

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