Nashville – Sometimes time of possession doesn't tell the story. Sometimes it does. In this one the Titans held onto the ball for over 41 minutes and it resulted in a lopsided 24-7 loss for the Patriots. Whether it was Eddie George, Robert Holcombe or Steve McNair, the Titans pounded the ball at the Patriots to the tune of 239 yards on 46 carries.
The loss for New England makes its final two games that much more critical if it is to win the division. The Patriots now trail the Dolphins by a full game in the AFC East with games against the Jets and Dolphins ahead.
The Titans defense had consistent pressure on Tom Brady and the New England offense could do no better when it tried to run, earning a measly 56 yards.
Both teams came up empty on each of their first two possessions. After Tennessee's Robert Holcombe broke off a 39-yard run to put the Titans on the New England 29, McNair overthrew Derrick Mason open over the middle and the 45-yard field goal attempt was missed by Joe Nedney. The Patriots took over at the Tennessee 35 but a 9-yard sack of Brady by Henry Ford at midfield stalled the Patriots drive.
The start of the second quarter had the Titans on the Patriots 39. A third and 7 holding penalty on Ty Law extended the drive earlier and Tennessee took advantage with passes to Greg Comella for 9 and Mason for 16. Three straight plays went to George for 11 yards to bring the Titans down to the 12. On third and 9, McNair looked to pass, found no one open and elected to run, evading Tebucky Jones along the way for the game's first score.
It looked like New England might get something going on its next possession when Brady hit Smith on a well-designed screen pass for 35 yards down to the Titans 43, but a third and 5 sack of Brady by Carlos Hall forced the punt and the Patriots were scoreless after three tries.
And again, when Terrell Buckley picked off McNair to put the Patriots on the Tennessee 42, it seemed the Patriots might get some production. The problem was Buckley fumbled just as his knee touched. Holcombe recovered and instead of the turnover, the change of hands resulted in a 17-yard play for the Titans. From there it was a lot of Eddie George along with a McNair run of 23 yards.
Tennessee found itself goal to go on the Patriots 6. On third down, Holcombe went around right end and was stopped literally an inch short. Even the subsequent official's review couldn't get him in. But the Titans gambled and went for the touchdown on fourth down instead of the sure three points and a 10-point lead with 37 seconds left in the half.
The gamble paid off with McNair keeping up the middle and the first half ended with the Patriots down by two touchdowns. The difference besides the points: 140 yards on the ground for the Titans and only 18 for the Patriots.
New England opened the second half in no-huddle mode and wound up with its first touchdown of the game thanks in large part to two 15-yard Titan penalties – a roughing the passer and pass interference call. The latter put New England on the Titans 27 where Brady hit Brown for 11 and then Smith for 6. On third and 4 from the 10, Brady did his own impression of Steve McNair, keeping up the middle for the score and cutting the lead to 14-7. All three touchdowns in the game to that point came by the legs of the quarterbacks.
New England needed a stop to keep the momentum and they got it despite giving up chunks of yardage on the ground to George and Holcombe. After the Titans were forced to punt, New England took over on the Tennessee 10-yard line. But like the Buckley fumble earlier, the Patriots saw an abrupt change of possession when the first play of the drive, a Brady pass intended for Patten, was tipped and deflected into the hands of Rich Coady who returned the interception for the score and just like that, the Titans were up 21-7.
Tennessee added three more points to the lead with 9:22 left in the game on a 28-yard field goal. More important, the Titans took 9:24 to do it on 15 plays. Nine of the calls went to George as he pounded the Patriots defense.
The desperation showed on the part of New England as Brady seemed to throw an interception from his own 27 on the third play of the ensuing series. But the play was reviewed and it was ruled the ball touched the ground as Peter Sirmon grabbed it. The overturn only meant, however, that the Patriots were allowed to punt the ball instead of defending immediately from their own territory.
The Patriots had yet another possession with just over five minutes left in the game but could do little against a Titans defense teeing off on Brady.
New England will need to rebound as they return home to face the Jets, themselves coming off a loss.