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Patriots Replay Fri Dec 14 | 12:00 AM - 11:59 PM

View from Above: Does ugly beat nothing?

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Remember when we said recently that 'ol ugly is better than 'ol nothin'?

Well, this was both.

That the Patriots lost on the road to the Tennessee Titans Sunday isn't the big issue. It was the way they lost. And it was the way they had their noses rubbed in it afterward - sort of.

"Hell yeah, it's personal," said ex-Patriot running back Dion Lewis when asked afterward about the win, in light of his leaving the team after last season when New England opted not to re-sign him. "That's what happens when you go cheap. You get your ass kicked."

Oh, but that's not all Lewis told the media.

"I just had to let our team know that these guys are beatable," he continued. "I know those guys. I know that if you are physical with them and let them have it, they will fold."

Whoa. Bitter much, Dion?  

Or has he identified a problem?

"I give them credit, they beat us," Tom Brady told listeners to WEEI Monday morning, the aftermath of the 34-10 beatdown undoubtedly still stinging. "When you win, you can say a lot of things. That is the reality of winning. We'll just take our lumps and try to learn from them."

The lumps for the Patriots to learn from are fairly obvious. Lewis has a point. His Titans controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and the defensive pressure on Brady was relentless throughout the game. Any issues up front for the Patriots became magnified with injury and/or illness problems at both tackle spots, as well as at guard.  

Add in some less-than-stellar play in the trenches on occasion by those who in there and, well, you begin to understand how some of those lumps appeared.

Oh, there were others as well. While the offense appeared to become predictable at times by targeting a few receivers - Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and James White had 32 of TB's 41 passes thrown their way - there was also little in the way of an established running game to relieve some of the pass pressure. Yes, Sony Michel was returning from an injury absence, too.

But there were several instances of open receivers without the play, or the ball, headed in their direction. Is there a fix for this that time and a little extra practice can repair?

Defensively, a week after turning in one of their better all-around performances of the past couple of years against Green Bay, the Patriots allowed the Titans to convert on nearly 50% of their 3rd down tries, allowed eight plays of 20+ yards, allowed four touchdowns in six Red Zone trips and gave up 14 yards per punt return and 78 yards on two kickoff returns.

Ok, that's not all on the defense. Special teams weren't exactly special, either. But you get the point. The big issue now - do the Patriots get the point, too?  

Rear-ends kicked and physicality sufficiently questioned, they should. The off-week in the schedule has arrived, and not a moment-too-soon.

There's much work to do, unless you're happy with 'ol ugly.

Cherry-nitpicking

Start anywhere you like. Choose a nit to pick, it's what we do. None of it was good. But why not begin with the opening kickoff to the game?

Over-pursuit and not remaining disciplined in coverage have both been problems from time to time on special teams and defense, and the issue showed itself early as Darius Jennings returned the opening kickoff 58 yards, setting the Titans up with excellent field position.

A mere 40 yards was covered in seven efficient plays, putting the Patriots in a hole with just three-and-a-half minutes gone in the opening quarter. Not exactly the textbook way to play a game on the road - letting the home team move with relative ease from the start.

But wait, there's more.

A helping hand

Tennessee's offense entered the game a mere 29th out of 32 teams in scoring, only reaching 28 points one time in their eight previous games played. The Titans were also last - dead last - in big plays, with 17 offensive snaps going for 20 yards or more. The Patriots personally saw to it they would improve in both categories.

As mentioned before, the defense allowed eight such plays of 20+ yards to a previously-challenged offense. Stephon Gilmore, for all his stellar play to this point in the season, was repeatedly burned by receiver Corey Davis, allowing him seven receptions (on 10 targets) and 125 yards.

The Titans' offense broke out of the gate in a juggernaut fashion, with nine first downs (out of 23 total) on their opening two drives alone. There was little resistance to meet them. Tennessee scored its' most points in a first half this season (24) and in a game (34). The Patriots allowed the most in a half this season.

Moving on...

It wasn't all one-sided

To be fair, the offense shares in much of the blame. But we can start with this - New England had averaged 40 points per game in their last five meetings with Tennessee before Sunday and managed a mere 10 points this time around.

True, a previous game played has zero to do with what was witnessed this week. But once the Titans turned up their pressure and never let their foot off the gas pedal, the Patriots never responded with much of an answer. That's different.

In fact, they appeared to mentally check-out on several occasions - passes forced into tight spots when receivers were open elsewhere; drops, poor tackling and little-to-no recognition or reaction to offensive or defensive sets. Derrick Henry's TD run in the second quarter was behind six linemen and two tight ends, and there were no adjustments. Henry's second touchdown was scored with ease on a Wildcat play.

It was as if they've never seen it before. They have, haven't they?

There have also been hard-to-explain defeats in recent years, true. Detroit earlier this year, Miami last year, Buffalo the year before. They happen. The Patriots have usually figured out a way to bounce back, whether they were meant to or not.  

Yeah, the bye week is here at the right time. Time to fix as much as you can. And there's a lot of stuff to fix.

Misery loves company

The Patriots aren't the only team and organization experiencing a Blue Monday.

We can start with the Cincinnati Bengals, who have very much been in the postseason picture to the midway point of the season. And then, the last three weeks happened.

The Bengals became the first team in the Super Bowl era to give up more than 500 yards of offense to an opponent three straight weeks. They allowed the New Orleans Saints to cook a 50-burger on their backsides this past Sunday, and as a result ESPN and the NFL Network report the Bengals fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

Think they're having much fun right now in Philadelphia? After a 27-20 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night, the defending Super Bowl champs find themselves under .500 (4-5) and two games behind division-leading Washington. The lack of a running game is making the Eagles predictable, and newcomer Golden Tate hasn't (yet) helped their offense take flight.

And then there are the J-E-T-S, the next opponent on New England's schedule. New York appeared lost defensively to a team that ranked dead LAST in passing offense, and the Jets grounded themselves from the start by allowing an astonishing 212 rushing yards to the Buffalo Bills. And no, Thurman Thomas did not come out of retirement, either.

The Jets allowed 41 points to a team that had scored only 96 points through the first nine weeks of the season.  

The Miami Dolphins settled for four field goals in a 31-12 loss at Green Bay - a team the Patriots beat by 14 points a week ago. The 'Phins were squished by an offensive line missing three starters and allowed six sacks.

One thing the Patriots have going for them, regardless of this weekend's performance - is the ol' reliable AFC East.  

Where misery loves company.

John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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