The hopes that New England would roll right into the bye week with a seven-game winning streak dissipated into the cool Nashville afternoon air as the Patriots 2018 road woes continued with a well-rounded, 34-10 defeat.
Bill Belichick’s team struggled on both sides of the ball against Mike Vrabel’s upstart Titans (5-4), with the game getting so out of hand that Brian Hoyer replaced Tom Brady with more than seven minutes to play.
New England dropped to 2-3 on the road this season and heads into the bye with a 7-3 record that’s still good enough for first place in the AFC East, but a couple games behind the Chiefs (9-1) in the AFC playoff picture.
Playing without Rob Gronkowski (back/ankle) for the second straight week, Brady and Co. scored on two of its first three drives of the day. But as strange as it is to say, couldn’t keep up with what Marcus Mariota and the Titans were doing. New England trailed 24-10 at halftime, was shut out in the second half and saw four second-half drives end in punts.
Even with Sony Michel’s return to the backfield, the ground game was unable to get anything going. And the Brady-led passing attack continued to sputter, the quarterback going without a touchdown pass for the second time in the last three games.
It was a true team loss, disappointing complementary play coming in all three phases.
“They were better than we were in that area, along with a lot of other ones,” Belichick said of his team’s problems on third down. “I thought the Titans were clearly the better team. They did a good job. They deserved to win.”
“That was just a bad day for all of us,” Brady concluded.
Before turning the page to the well-deserved Week 11 bye week, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the ugly loss in Tennessee.
James Develin - The Pro Bowl fullback earns his keep by opening holes for the running backs, but Sunday afternoon was the only Patriots player to find the end zone. Develin punched in a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter that was his first rushing attempt since 2014 and his first touchdown since 2013. On a day when few other Patriots can make the claim, Develin did his job.
Julian Edelman - Though things ended on a sour note when Edelman limped to the locker room early with an ankle injury, the slot receiver was the only really efficient member of the Patriots passing game. Edelman caught nine of 12 passes thrown his way for 104 yards, including a long catch of 30 yards. He also got into the production as a passer on a reverse throwback to Brady for a 6-yard completion that came up just short of a first-down as the quarterback stumbled awkwardly to the turf. Edelman was solid, aside from one strange incompletion over the middle when he failed to turn his head and saw Brady’s pass bounce off his facemask.
Tom Brady – The GOAT is in the midst of a tough month. With Sunday afternoon’s performance, Brady has now thrown a mere one touchdown pass in the last three weeks. He’s going long stretches within games failing to find any consistency or efficiency in the passing game. Brady was pressured early – he was sacked three times and hit six times – and did not respond well to it. Overall Brady completed just 21 of 41 throws for 254 yards for a 70.6 passer rating that was strangely the fifth-highest in the game among the players who threw a pass. Ugh. Statistically Brady is a middle-of-the-road NFL passer of late.
Stephon Gilmore – New England’s No. 1 cornerback shook off a tough first couple weeks to the season to settle into a role as one of the Patriots best defenders this season. But that all fell apart Sunday afternoon in Tennessee at the hands of second-year receiver Corey Davis and the Mariota-led passing attack. Gilmore struggled so much matching up with Davis early that New England mixed things up with zone looks late. Davis finished with a game-high seven catches for 125 yards with one touchdown. The score came on a pretty ball that Mariota dropped in the bucket for a 23-yard touchdown that saw Gilmore also get flagged for pass interference. It was his second flag of the day and he probably could have been called for a couple others trying to keep up with Davis, Tennessee’s leading receiver on the season. Gilmore struggled mightily for a New England defense that followed suit.
Run defense – New England’s run defense has been inconsistent. It was on the down side of that Sunday in Tennessee, putting up a poor showing from the first snap. The front got gashed by old friend Dion Lewis early and run over by big back Derrick Henry late. Overall Tennessee ran it 36 times for 150 yards and 4.2-yard average. Each of the four guys that carried the ball for the Titans, including Mariota, had a run of 12 yards or longer. The defense allowed Henry to run five straight times for 37 yards, capped by an easy 10-yard touchdown out of the Wildcat in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring and the game.
Offensive line – Playing with Ted Karras in place of Shaq Mason yet again, and with LaAdrian Waddle having to see time at both tackle spots in place of Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon, the guys up front struggled in both pass protection and the running game. Brady was hit early and even avoided a couple sacks to throw the ball away. Tennessee finished with three sacks and the six hits, but the front seven was even more impactful than that. Run-wise, New England ran it 19 times for just 40 yards (2.1 avg.). Six different players ran the ball, none with an average better than 2.8 per carry. Michel finished with just 31 yards on his team-high 11 attempts. The line lost the line of scrimmage battle all afternoon.
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