]()Some of the execution smelled of preseason, but the hitting in the first half of this one had a whiff of the playoffs. Whether that was due to lingering ill will or just two teams trying to show each other and their coaches some intensity, it made for a chippy first 30 minutes.
When it was sub time in the second half, Tennessee took control of the game, winding up with a 27-24 win, coming back from a 17-7 halftime deficit.
Tom Brady and his starting offense played deep into the second quarter while the Patriots defensive first-teamers played the entire first half.
Notable starters were Le Kevin Smith at right end in place of Ty Warren and Donte Stallworth at wideout.
It was a rough night for Brady with two interceptions and a flurry of knockdowns. When he was upright he looked OK going 10 for 19 and a touchdown but anyone who is a Patriot fan had to breath a little easier once he was removed from the game. It was that kind of physical.
Vince Young of the Titans had a tough time as well. Although he wasn't picked off, the second-year QB was sacked four times and only completed five passes on 17 attempts (102 yards).
The Patriots offense got off to a rocky start. Stallworth began New England's first drive of the game with a 15-yard completion but three plays later, Brady looked his way again with direct opposite results.
Brady was drilled by Kyle Vanden Bosch just as he threw and the errant pass was picked off by Cortland Finnegan who returned the ball 51 yards for a touchdown down the right sideline. On the play, Stallworth lost all sight of the ball and before he found it, it was in the hands of Finnegan and too late for him to make an attempt to tackle the Titan.
Brady brushed off and came right back to tie the score. He hit Faulk for 19 yards to start the scoring drive. On the fifth play of the series, Brady bought time by moving out of the pocket and found Welker in the end zone from 28 yards out.
Bam Childress had a nice return of the kickoff to give his team good starting field position at the New England 42 on scoring drive.
New England managed to next tie the tally in the turnover column as well. On the Titans following play from scrimmage, fullback Ahmard Hall couldn't get the handle on Young's handoff and fumbled. Jarvis Green came up with it giving the Patriots offense first and 10 at the Tennessee 23.
Sammy Morris ran five straight times down to the 2 where Heath Evans sealed the deal behind the right side of the offensive line to give New England the lead at 14-7.
New England's defense was stifling Young and his offense but the Titans defense was also giving Brady a tough time despite the score. Heat was coming from all directions when he dropped back to pass and during the Patriots next series it was Vanden Bosch again hitting Brady, this time from behind, knocking the ball loose before Brady's arm came forward (the call on the field was actually an incomplete pass but the Titans successfully challenged).
Luckily, Stephen Neal recovered to minimize the damage but the Patriots went three and out as a result.
Brady's trials continued into the second quarter. Despite benefiting from a 33-yard pass interference call on Kelly Herndon covering Stallworth and having first and goal at the 1, the Patriots came up empty. Morris got held for no gain, Logan Mankins got flagged for his second hold of the game and Brady bailed out of the pocket on third down and had to hit the ground for a 4-yard loss before Antwan Odom had a chance to hit him.
To top things off, Stephen Gostkowski was wide left on a 33-yard field goal attempt.
Brady picked up a few more bruises when, still in the second quarter, Odom absolutely leveled him resulting in a floater and another interception, this time by Lamont Thompson. Other than rattling Brady, the turnover had no affect on the score as Rodney Harrison returned Odom's favor by destroying Young three plays later for an 8-yard sack and a three and out series for the Titans.
Brady hung in there and stayed in the game as the second quarter moved into its late stages. Faulk continued to take advantage of the hard-charging Titans by making himself available for screens to the tune of 15 and 26 yards. The Patriots got as close as the Tennessee 2 but a pass interference call on Reche Caldwell moved the ball back and New England settled for a 32-yard Gostkowski field goal to make the score 17-7.
]()Tennessee threatened to add seven as the half came to a close. Immediately following an 8-yard sack by Junior Seau, Young saw his pocket collapse but somehow managed to shovel off a pass to Bo Scaife who went 44 yards down to the 3-yard line.
On first down it looked like Chris Henry had daylight to the end zone but instead of turning it up sharply, he rounded off his path and the Patriots defense caught up, limiting him to 2 yards. Young kept for no gain on second down and then had a pass go off Cooper Wallace's hands on third down. Fourth and 1 and the Titans went for it. Young saw no one open and headed towards the goal line where he was met by Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi for no gain and a turnover on downs to essentially bring things to halftime.
Tennessee opened the second half by intercepting Matt Cassel and converting the turnover into six points. Rookie Michael Griffin was the thief, stealing the ball in the air from Caldwell who should of at least broken up the play.
Instead, the Titans were first and 10 at the 32. In the game at quarterback, Kerry Collins hit Casey Cramer for 17 yards on third and 1 and then Roydell Williams from 15 yards out on third and 7 for the score.
The veteran Collins engineered a tying drive with some nice passing and running by Chris Brown. John Vaughn was good on a 31-yard attempt to make the score 17-17 with under four minutes left in the third quarter. On the drive, the Patriots substitute defense looked very vulnerable in coverage and Collins took advantage.
As the fourth quarter opened, the Titans were driving again and again, Griffin gave his team the ball with an interception of a Cassel pass that bounced off the hands of Garrett Mills.
Once again, Collins picked his way downfield while this time, Dontrell Moore carried the load on the ground and ended the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run. to make it 24-17.
Matt Gutierrez got the Patriots back in the end zone with a 2 yard keep to cap off a 12-play drive highlighted by a 26-yard hook-up with Childress and some hard running by Heath Evans and Quinton Smith. New England tried to do everyone a favor by going for a two-point conversion rather than the extra-point and the tie but a delay of game penalty on New England spoiled it and Gostkowski hit 1-pointer instead to make it a 24-24 game with 6:12 left to play.
With Tim Rattay behind center, the Titans still managed to pick up three points to take the lead back. On a long third down, Rattay found Justin Gage for 20 yards and a first down early in the drive. Moore continued to pick up chunks of yards on the ground but Patriots linebacker Justin Rogers made a nice play near the goal line, shedding a block and dropping Moore for a 1-yard loss. Two incompletes later, Vaughn was on for a 22-yard attempt that he made.
New England had 1:45 left in the game to tie or better but Gutierrez was unable to get a drive going, turning it over on downs to the Titans who were content to run the clock out and end the game with a 27-24 win.
Danny Baugher had the punting duties all to himself and he fared well, booming a 70-yarder and finishing with a 49-yard average.