FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Titans, facing the Patriots with a banged-up roster depleted by injuries, needed to play a clean football game on Sunday to have a chance for an inspiring upset.
Narrator: It didn't happen.
The Titans hurt themselves with turnovers, penalties and missed tackles here at Gillette Stadium, and in the process said goodbye the No.1 seed in the AFC heading into the bye week.
The Titans fell 36-13 to the Patriots.
"I think you're always obviously disappointed, frustrated when you lose," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "We did some good things. We did some obviously things that are going to get you beat. That is somewhat frustrating. Can't go on the road, especially against a good team, and do those types of things.
"You don't have to look too hard on why we lost."
The Titans turned the ball over four times against the Patriots, and they've now turned the ball over nine times in the past two games.
The Titans have now lost back-to-back games, as their record slipped to 8-4.
Running backs D'Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard and Khari Blasingame all lost fumbles for the Titans, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill was also intercepted in the end zone, which killed a big scoring opportunity in the fourth quarter.
The mistakes killed Tennessee's chances of a win on a day when the team ran the ball well, as Hilliard (12-131) and Foreman (19-109) combined for over 200 rushing yards. The Titans ran for 270 yards on the day.
"The biggest thing with the running backs is that we've got to protect the football, run hard, and try to do the things we got to do to help the team win," Foreman said. "As for myself, I have to do a better job of securing the ball and finishing my run."
With five games left in the regular season, the Titans now need to get healthy, and regroup.
"We are going to get everybody healthy, and we are going to get everybody going like Coach Vrabel said, both physically and mentally coming off this bye week," defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. "We have two weeks to get prepared and get ready back at home after the bye week. We're going take this bye week and hopefully we can get a lot of guys back, but you know, we're good team and I feel like once we get everybody back or coming off this bye week when everybody's mind is clear, we are going to get it back rolling. You know, of course everybody is probably thinking we are not that team anymore, but I have a lot of faith in my guys and I have a lot of faith in this team. And like I said, coming off this bye week we're going to come back."
The Titans hung in there for a long time on Sunday, before the dam eventually broke.
After falling behind 7-0 on a four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mac Jones to receiver Kendrick Bourne, the Titans answered back with an impressive 14-play, 74-yard drive that was capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, but the extra point was missed, so it was 7-6 Patriots.
The Patriots extended their lead to 10-6 on a 22-yard field goal by kicker Nick Folk.
The Titans had a chance to cut into the lead on their next drive, but Bullock misfired on a 44-yard field goal and the score remained 10-6. The Patriots then made it 16-6 on a pair of field goals from Folk.
The Titans then got a big play before halftime – a 68-yard run by Hilliard, which cut the lead to 16-13. After a miss from Folk from 53 yards, it was 16-13 at the half.
"I feel every time I touch it, I'm going to score," Hilliard said of his score. "The o-line did a wonderful job moving guys around and creating those lanes for me to get through."
The Patriots surged ahead 26-13 on another Folk field goal, and a 41-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Bourne, a play that featured some bad angles and a missed tackle by Titans defenders.
With the Titans on the verge of making it a one-score game, however, Tannehill was intercepted by Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson in the end zone on a ball intended for receiver Cody Hollister.
Another field goal by Folk, this one from 52 yards, made it 29-13 with just 6:09 remaining.
A 14-yard run touchdown run by running back Damien Harris made it 36-13 with 4:38 left.
Kevin Hogan replaced Tannehill late in the fourth quarter.
"We had opportunities. We did some really good things," Tannehill said. "The turnovers, the fumbles hurt us obviously. We ran the ball extremely well the whole game. Had the turnovers and then didn't convert when we were down in there tight there in the early fourth quarter. So you put all those together, and you put yourself in a difficult situation."
Just like previous games during this injury-riddled season, the Titans were short-handed for Sunday's game.
The Titans began the game with 17 players on Injured Reserve, including receiver A.J. Brown, who was added to IR on Saturday. Brown joined running back Derrick Henry and receiver Julio Jones on the list from the offense. Outside linebacker Bud Dupree is also on IR.
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.
At this point, the Titans need a bye, and Vrabel knows it.
The Titans have a bye next Sunday before returning to action on December 12 against the Jaguars at Nissan Stadium. The Titans also have a two-game lead over the Colts (6-6), plus the tiebreaker, in the race for the AFC South.
"We've lost two games in a row," Vrabel said. "We lost at home. Came on the road and played very competitively for the first half. They're disappointed. Obviously, the way that the game went in the second half, a lot of these guys have been grinding through, pushing through. It has a lot to do with mental health of dealing with injuries and dealing with things. This is a good time for us all to reset and focus on this football team and getting healthy in all aspects."
The Tennessee Titans take on the New England Patriots in Week 12 at Gillette Stadium.