...We'll start with a penalty examination. The first one of the game was thrown on rookie left guard Shaq Mason on New England's second play of the day. Mason made a poor diving effort to block DT Jurrell Casey, who was darting into the backfield to take down RB Brandon Bolden. In desperation, Mason clung to Casey's leg, tripping up the defender. Proper call by referee Walt Coleman's crew.
…Other than that miscue by Mason, it was a methodical opening drive for the Patriots, ending in a Rob Gronkowski touchdown catch. We saw a couple of unconventional plays from the offense on that drive, one of which worked, the other didn't. The one that didn't was a high school-like toss to Bolden that was not blocked well by the o-line and was snuffed for minus-1 yard. On the other hand, Gronk's first catch of the game came on a pattern that saw him motion from the left end of the formation. At the snap, he was just arriving at the right end and was still running parallel to the line of scrimmage in the backfield when Brady floated a soft pass to him. Gronk then turned upfield and gained 13 yards. Some new additions to the playbook from OC Josh McDaniels.
…Gronk's touchdown grab was nothing more than a 5-yard out-pattern at the goal line. LB Avery Williamson was no match for the big tight end in 1-on-1 coverage and Brady made the precise throw to find his target. The play was nearly broken up before the pass, however, as Mason and Vollmer had difficulty double-teaming Casey on the pass rush from the left side. Casey was able to wedge himself between the two linemen, which gave him leverage to continue on course toward Brady. Vollmer and Mason only served to slow down Casey just enough to give Brady time to release the ball. Casey should never have been a threat to the QB on this play. Poor technique and execution by Vollmer and Mason here. Luckily, it didn't affect the outcome of the scoring play.
…Defensively, DT Akiem Hicks had his most memorable game as a Patriot Sunday. It began with his 5-yard sack of Titans rookie QB Marcus Mariota. Hicks initially took an outside rush angle on RG Chance Warmack, and was getting the better of him, as Mariota noticed. This made Mariota decide to step up in the pocket. Hicks saw this and planted, and Warmack's momentum kept him going backward for a couple of steps. This gave Hicks and opening to the inside, and he took it, charging directly at Mariota, who was trapped because LB Jerod Mayo was blitzing in from the B-gap. Hicks brought Mariota down just as Mayo arrived.
…New England's second penalty was also justified. When the offense got the ball back, on a 2nd-and-10 from their own 37, the Patriots ran a shotgun handoff to RB James White, but LT Sebastian Vollmer was lined up too far off the line of scrimmage, as tackles often do in order to gain a blocking advantage against on-rushing d-linemen and OLBs. This is illegal, of course, as you must have seven men on the line of scrimmage on every play. The NFL has let o-linemen get away with this tactic for years, but the league now appears to be calling more penalties on teams this year for this type of infraction, and in this case, it was clearly a violation by Vollmer.
…Same drive, 3rd-and-15, Brady was sacked for the first time in the game. This time, it was the other rookie guard, Tre' Jackson, who was guilty. Again, it was Casey bringing the pressure. He put a nice swim move on Jackson, and the rookie right guard couldn't keep his feet as he tried to recover from getting beaten. Jackson wound up on the turf, while Casey ended up in Brady's face. No. 12 had no choice but to fold up.
…Hicks was the beneficiary of a great play by DE Chandler Jones early in this quarter. On 3rd-and-9 from the TEN 26, Mariota took a shotgun snap and Jones bull-rushed LT Taylor Lewan. The lineman had the better of Jones, actually, by shoving his left hand in Jones' chin and using his right arm to direct Jones away from the QB. However, Jones managed to sneak his left arm into the small opening between Lewan's facemask and left arm. It almost looked like Jones was hyperextending his arm, but somehow, he swiped at the football just as Mariota cocked it back to throw. Jones tried to fall on the ball, but it squirted away from him. Hicks then came charging in and scooped up the football, but didn't get a good handle on it and it slipped from his grasp as Mariota tackled Hicks by the legs. As he was falling to the ground, Hicks had the presence of mind to reach for the bouncing football and land on it in the end zone for a touchdown. Nice athleticism and improvisation displayed here by both Jones and Hicks.
…Great job by DE Jabaal Sheard to stuff the Titans on 3rd-and-1 from the TEN 19. WR Dorial Green-Beckham was lined up as a tight end in a three-point stance on the left side of Tennessee's formation and Sheard was standing up over him. At the snap, Sheard shoved Green-Beckham backward and into FB Jalston Fowler. Sheard then leapt over Green-Beckham to wrap up Fowler and ensure he didn't go any further. The Titans gained nothing on the play and were forced to punt. Phenomenal individual effort by Sheard there.
…Sadly, Danny Amendola fumbled the ensuing punt and the Titans recovered. For the third time in four games, the Patriots have coughed up and lost a punt when leading by 14 points. Each time, it was by a different returner (rookie Chris Jones at Denver, veteran Keshawn Martin at Houston last week, and now Amendola). Amendola was being tackled and only had one arm around the football. Titan cover guy Phillip Supernaw reached in as he flew past Amendola and pried the ball loose. Two arms around the football might have prevented this, but Amendola appeared to be bracing his fall with his left arm, which is why he only kept his right arm on it.
…The Patriots should have gotten the ball right back when Mariota tried to thread a pass to TE Delanie Walker on the ensuing play. LB Dont'a Hightower was giving chase and was lucky that Mariota's pass was slightly underthrown, forcing Walker to leap and try to reach behind Hightower to try to make the catch. Hightower raised his left arm as the ball arrived and knocked it up in the air. Rookie safety Jordan Richards came in from the right and had the ball fall right into his hands, but Richards collided with Hightower and Walker and the ball popped free, falling incomplete.
…Mariota's final play of the afternoon came just two plays later when he was sacked by a blitzing LB Jamie Collins. The veteran did a nice job of reading the running back, Antonio Andrews, who was Mariota's protector in the backfield on this shotgun play. Andrews made a faulty calculation by reacting to the middle of the line, where Sheard was rushing but was occupied by Warmack and center Andy Gallik. There was no need for Andrews to assist them. He should have stayed home and picked up Collins, who waited to see where Andrews was going before deciding to blitz. There was a wide open path for Collins to get to Mariota, and as he arrived, the rookie QB tried to absorb the hit by falling to the ground. But he did so awkwardly, and his right knee got caught underneath him and bent sideways. He left the game, tried to put a brace on the knee, but was eventually ruled out for the rest of the game. Probably a wise precautionary move by the Tennessee coaches and medical staff.
…After a Titans field goal, some nice blocking by TEs Michael Williams and Asante Cleveland on the kickoff team wedge to open up a hole for Martin, who made a move and took the kick 75 yards, setting up New England's next touchdown.
…You want to see textbook blocking assignments executed properly? Check out James White's screen pass touchdown. Rookie center David Andrews and veteran guard Josh Kline started off the blocking for White near the line of scrimmage as he took the dump-off pass from Brady. Then in the next level, Amendola and fellow WR Brandon LaFell finished it off, each of them taking their defenders and squaring them up to open up a huge lane for White, who was never touched on his 30-yard scamper to the end zone.
…New England's front seven did a nice job of holding up the Titans' o-line on 4th-and-1 from the NE 38. This allowed safety Patrick Chung, 5 yards back from the line of scrimmage, to come up and meet Andrews just shy of the first-down marker, turning the ball back over to the Patriots' offense on downs. Good awareness by Chung and stout tackling effort by him to keep Andrews wrapped up without gaining any more yards.
…Tough afternoon in coverage for CB Logan Ryan, who gave up 6 passes to Green-Beckham for 113 yards.
…Tennessee's first touchdown went to Walker on a slant in the red zone. Looked like either a busted coverage or a late reaction by Chung and/or Duron Harmon to come up and cover him. Either way, Walker was unguarded off the line of scrimmage and caught backup QB Zach Mettenberger's pass in stride and by the time the defenders converged on him, he was at the goal line.
…Tough break for CB Malcolm Butler, whose first INT of the game was nullified by a legitimate defensive holding penalty by secondary teammate Leonard Johnson.
…Jones recorded his second sack of the day when he fought off a double-team by Lewan and rookie guard Quinton Spain. He did so by drifting to his left and following the push by DT Sealver Siliga up the middle. Spain couldn't contain Jones on his own, and Lewan was unable to do much good because he was screened off by virtue of Siliga driving his man so far into the backfield. Lewan couldn't cut behind Spain because those two were in the way, leaving Jones free, once he shook off Spain.
…Brady was brought down a second time when RT Marcus Cannon was driven back by DL Karl Klug's bull rush. Cannon was simply overpowered as Klug willed his way to Brady.
…Butler finally got his second INT of the season when Mettenberger underthrew his open receiver, Harry Douglas, in the end zone. Butler was beaten by a step or two by Douglas, but Butler was in the right position to shield Douglas from the ball as it came down. Butler held on to the football as both he and Douglas fell to the ground and Douglas tried to tear it away.
…Martin's OPI penalty looked unjust. Yes, he made contact with the defender, OLB Brian Orakpo, but the collision occurred a yard from the line of scrimmage, well within the zone in which that can occur. No flag should have been thrown, and White's 70 yard catch and run on the play should have stood.
…Walker's second TD catch should never have been a scoring play. It should have been only a first-down catch, if that, were it not for missed tackles by Chung, LB Jonathan Bostic, Harmon, and Richards. Well-executed Walker stiff-arms on two occasions resulted in two of those missed tackles.
…I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the solid effort running the ball by rookie FB Joey Iosefa. He's been toiling in anonymity on the New England practice squad since October and finally got a chance to play Sunday versus Tennessee. He did a decent job as a lead blocker early in the game, but wound up leading all Patriots ball carriers with 14 carries. He averaged 3.6 yards a clip, so, it wasn't an eye-popping performance, but he protected the football and did what was expected of him – churn out yards and keep the clock moving.