Two weeks after being upset by the Eagles at Gillette Stadium, New England returned home to Foxborough Sunday afternoon and this time very much took care of business against its overmatched visitor from Tennessee.
Despite missing practice on Friday due to illness, Tom Brady not only got the start against the Titans but completed each of his seven passes for 70 yards including a 5-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski to open the scoring after an initial three-and-out for Tennessee.
The game remained a one-score affair until the second quarter when the Patriots added 17 points, including a Chandler Jones strip sack and Akiem Hicks' touchdown recovery, to pull away for the 24-3 halftime advantage.
Though things never quite rolled into the blowout that appeared well on the way at halftime, Bill Belichick's squad overcame more injuries and personnel limitations to win 33-16 over a Titans squad that also lost Marcus Mariota to a knee injury and had to play more than half the game with Zach Mettenberger under center.
New England saw Dont'a Hightower (knee) leave early again, this after he returned to action after a two-game absence. Danny Amendola left in the first half with a knee injury and did not return. Patrick Chung suffered a hip injury that sent him to the locker room early, this on a day when New England was already without Devin McCourty (ankle). Even guys who finished the game like Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell looked to be dealing with their own minor dings.
It's late in the year. Both the IR list and weekly injury list are growing. The games are growing fewer, but so are the options in terms of personnel.
New England's margin for error is much tighter. But the wins continue. And the steps toward the bye and the playoff road going through Gillette continue as well.
"Always good to win. Twelve wins, we are on the right track here," Belichick said. "Lot of positive things. Lot of football left and things we can improve on. Lot of guys stepped up and filled roles today. That's what you need from a team. It's a long season."
Here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the Patriots latest business-like win that once again included some banged up bodies:
Tom Brady –Brady not only started despite missing practice on Friday -- he said he felt 100 percent and "ready to go" -- but was very impressive, including the seven-for-seven effort on the opening drive. Brady had a pair of touchdowns in the first half, giving him 35 for the year. He tied Peyton Manning for the NFL record with his fourth season of 35 or more touchdowns. Brady finished completing 23 of 35 passes for 267 yards with the two touchdowns for a 107.7 passer rating.
Brandon LaFell –The veteran receiver has drawn a lot of heat for dropped passes since returning from PUP, but he was on point on Sunday afternoon. LaFell caught four of the five balls thrown his way for a team-high 88 yards, including a 31-yard long. Not a remarkable day, but maybe a solid step in the right direction for the veteran who could be key down the stretch given the injuries to other on the wide receiver depth chart.
Jabaal Sheard/Akiem Hicks – For the second straight week the pair of first-year newcomers to the defensive front came up big. Hicks had the impressive touchdown fumble recovery as well as a sack earlier in the first half, while Sheard notched an solid sack on the final play of the first 30 minutes. The duo evenly split a combined eight tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss and a pair of QB hits. They are coming into their own in New England at the right time to help the front seven down the stretch.
James White – All White does is produce at this point. The passing back showed impressive patience, vision and cutting ability on a 30-yard screen pass for a touchdown in the second quarter. White only had one attempt for 6 yards on the ground, but he had a game-high seven receptions for 71 yards, including the highlight-reel touchdown. White's production per opportunity it about as high as anyone on the Patriots at this point.
Logan Ryan – New England's No. 2 cornerback drew a lot of Titans talented rookie Dorial Green-Beckham and didn't fare well in the matchup. The Patriots mixed coverages and seemingly used Malcom Butler more in regards to both Harry Douglas and Delanie Walker. Ryan chased Green-Beckham at times and fell victim to the rookie's size, with the second-round pick tallying six catches for a game-high 113 yards.
Offensive line – There is no one member of the offensive line that's standing out for the better or the worse right now. The problems protecting Brady and opening holes for the running backs have been across the board. David Andrews filled in for the missing Bryan Stork (personal reasons). The front got back to Josh Kline rotating through both guard spots with Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson. Brady was sacked just twice – fewest in more than a month – and was only sacked four times, but pressure was still an issue. The line needs to get better down the stretch.
Danny Amendola/special teams – For the third time in the last four games New England suffered a muff/fumble on punt return when Amendola turned the ball over in the second quarter. To add injury to insult, Amendola later left the game with a knee injury and did not return for the second half. Amendola had just one catch for 3 yards on the day. The rest of the special teams also had its issues. Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal from 48 yards, his first miss under 50 this year. He also barely doinked another field goal through off the right upright. Ryan Allen didn't punt well, with at least two kicks going out of bounds on the right side with net below 40 on the day and none downed inside the 20. The third phase that had been such a strength for the Patriots for a year-plus has been a detriment for the last month.
What do you think of our lists? Addition or alterations? Let us know with a comment below!