FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Titans lost 36-13 to the Patriots on here on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out in the contest …
The Titans sabotaged their chances of winning here on Sunday with turnovers, and it's been an ugly two-game stretch. Against the Patriots, the Titans fumbled five times, and they lost three of them. Running backs Dontrell Hilliard, D'Onte Foreman and Khari Blasingame all lost fumbles, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw an interception in the end zone. Combine those four turnovers with the five from last week, and the Titans now have nine turnovers (vs. zero takeaways) in the past two games. It's no wonder the team heads into the bye week with a two-game losing streak. "(We) just have to play clean football," Tannehill said. "We're marching the ball, marching the ball. I felt like every time we touched it, we were doing good things. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple times by putting it on the ground. So just have to be able to clean those things up."
The Titans ran the ball well against the Patriots. Hilliard racked up 131 yards on 12 carries, including a 68-yard run into the end zone for a touchdown. Foreman also ran for 109 yards on 19 carries, including a 30-yard bolt. Throw in 24 rushing yards for Tannehill and six yards from Blasingame, and the Titans had a whopping 270 rushing yards on the day. "They did a better job of coaching it than we did," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked what gave the Patriots defense trouble stopping the run. "We have to coach and play better." Most weeks, a rushing performance like that will get you a win. But not on a day with three fumbles from the backs, and too many mistakes. "You never want to put the ball on the ground as a running back and today we did that," Foreman said. "I think we ran the ball pretty well, but at the end of the day we put the ball on the ground."
Shaky on Special Teams
Kicker Randy Bullock picked a bad day to have a bad day. Bullock misfired on an extra point, and he also missed a 44-yard field goal in the first half. But the Titans hurt themselves in other ways on special teams, with penalties. Linebacker Nick Dzubnar was called for holding on the opening kickoff, which put the Titans in bad field position, and led to an early three-and-out. Defensive back Chris Jones was called for illegal motion on the team's first punt, which negated a beauty of a punt from punter Brett Kern. The Patriots got much better field position on the ensuing punt, and they turned it into an early touchdown. Titans safety Matthias Farley was called for a facemask penalty on a kickoff, setting up more good field position for the Patriots. These blunders were among plenty for the Titans on this day, but it's more that needs to be cleaned up.
A Winning Game Plan Spoiled
With a depleted lineup, I admit, I didn't have a great feeling about this one heading in. Yet the Titans trailed just 16-13 at the half, and they were on the verge of making it 26-20 early in the fourth quarter, with a first and goal at the New England five-yard line. But the Tannehill pick killed the threat, and it also ended Tennessee's hopes on a day when the team actually had a formula to pull an upset – by running the ball, and holding the Patriots to field goals on five different drives. But again, turnovers, and a lack of big plays from the defense, eventually led to the dam breaking, and an ugly final score. "I definitely thought we had a winning game plan, I commend the coaches for that, putting together great packages," Hilliard said. "We went out there and did ourselves a bad favor with a lot of things going on. We have to come back next time and put it all together."
Titans Need a Bye
The Titans began the game with 17 players on Injured Reserve, including receiver A.J. Brown, who was added to IR on Saturday. The Titans also ruled out six other players prior to Sunday's game, as linebacker David Long, linebacker Rashaan Evans, guard Nate Davis, running back Jeremy McNichols, defensive lineman Teair Tart and cornerback Greg Mabin didn't make the trip. The team lost linebacker Monty Rice during the game with an ankle injury. On Sunday, with receiver Cody Hollister, cornerback Buster Skrine, quarterback Kevin Hogan and defensive lineman Kevin Strong all playing, the Titans now hold the NFL record for most players used in a season with 86. This is a team, after 12 straight games, that desperately needs a bye, and to get healthy. "We've got to get healthy mentally and physically," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "And get back to playing football how we know how to play it, taking care of the football, playing complementary, knowing the details. A lot of things to improve."
Still in a Good Spot
Sure, I could write more about this game. There were more negatives – from sloppy tackling to miss opportunities to yes, I've already mentioned the turnovers. And there were also more positives. In addition to the running game, Hollister showed some toughness, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine scored another touchdown, safety Kevin Byard had a team-high 12 tackles and a sack (yes, he gave up some plays, too). But in the big picture, the Titans remain in a good spot with five games left in the regular season. As a result of Indy's loss to the Buccaneers, the Titans (8-4) remain in firm control of the AFC South over the Colts (6-6), with a two-game lead, and the tiebreaker. At this point, the Titans need to put Sunday's loss behind them, and focus on the opportunity ahead. "We're a good team," Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. "And we're going to get it back rolling. Of course, everybody thinks we're not that team any more, but I have a lot of faith in this team. Coming off this bye week, we're going to come back rolling."