the new england patriots got another victory, the sixth in a row, against a badly injured but very competitive squad of tennessee titans. The win keeps the Patriots 8-4 atop the AFC East and within striking distance of the conference’s top seed.
With that said, let’s get to the conclusion of the game.
1. mac jones has an up and down day. Looking at his numbers, you’d think mac jones had a great game. the first-round rookie was 23 of 32 for 310 yards and a pair of touchdowns. he certainly wasn’t bad, but he definitely didn’t have his best game of the season either.
Jones had some good plays, but he also missed a fair number of shots, including a wide-open Hunter Henry for what would have been a walk-in touchdown. he also sailed some passes and almost threw a pick-six that, thankfully, was knocked down by the Titans’ linebacker.
at the end of the day, jones threw a fair amount of solid pitching and did enough to win the game. That’s all that matters. he’s still a rookie, and there are times when he makes rookie mistakes, but as long as they keep winning through those mistakes, I’ll take it.
2. kendrick bourne supremacy. kendrick bourne had two of the most explosive plays for the patriots on sunday, and both allowed touchdowns for them. The first was a fantastic catch ripped off Kevin Byard in the back of the end zone. the second was a 41-yard tiptoe down the sideline where he broke up a few tackles along the way.
bourne is becoming one of jones’ most reliable targets and starting to look like one of the best free agent signings of the offseason. he also brings a lot of energy to the team, and seems to be a guy that other players love. Patriots and their fans should be very happy Bourne is on this team.
A side note on his long touchdown: Jakobi Meyers’ play to get him out was incredible. Unable to throw an actual block due to the rules on off-the-blocks, he simply got in the way, throwing up an NBA-like screen to give Bourne room to run down the sideline. a smart play from another smart receiver.
3. the defense against the run has problems. I feel like “struggles” may not be a strong enough word. the run defense was lousy and bordering on embarrassing. the 68-yard touchdown he allowed late in the first half is completely unacceptable and simply can’t happen. That was far from the only problem, however, as the unit was shattered throughout the day: Excluding a knee by Ryan Tannehill to end the first half, the Titans finished averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
as devon godchaux pointed out after the game, “yards don’t beat you, points do.” Incredibly, the Patriots are now 4-1 under Bill Belichick in giving up at least 250 rushing yards. it’s a stat that doesn’t make sense, but it also makes perfect based on what we know about belichick.
still, the patriots will have a lot of work to do to solve their problems. After all, there are some very good teams to run at the top of the AFC.
4. jc jackson keeps finding ways to make plays. mr. INT now has 24 career interceptions from him, which is the third-most in NFL history through a player’s first four seasons. His biggest play of the day wasn’t his pick, but his forced fumble in the third quarter.
The game was 19-13 in favor of the Patriots, and the Titans were on their first drive of the second half. d’onta foreman broke free of the defense and went for a 30-yard gain, but jackson hit the ball and jalen mills jumped on it. If Jackson doesn’t take the ball away, who knows how that drive ends, and the outcome of the game could have been very different.
jackson has been one of the best corners in football this season, and yesterday was no different. he’s made a lot of money, and the hope is that robert kraft will give him that money this offseason.
5. the running game struggles. The Patriots not only had trouble stopping the run, but they also had real trouble running the ball themselves. they ended up gaining 105 yards, but had almost nothing in the middle all day.
rhamondre stevenson had a fantastic 19-yard run late in the game where he broke up multiple tackles and showed an outrageous amount of contact balance. Damien Harris also had 21 consecutive rushing yards, the last a 14-yard touchdown run. however, if she removes those three, the new england average is not very good.
The Patriots have been dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for the past few weeks, but the Titans were the ones who dominated on Sunday. The good news is that New England could still get the win, but they will have to be better at handling football in the future, because that is the true identity of this team.
6. nick folk is amazing. a few days after bill belichick said that nick folk had taught him some things about kicking that he never knew which is crazy since bill belichick’s dad literally wrote the book on kicking and punts, put folk in a clinic at gillette stadium. he missed a 53-yard attempt late in the second quarter, but had field goals of 22, 37, 44, 28 and 52 yards.
To add to that, Folk has now connected on five kicks of more than 50 yards, tying Stephen Gostkowski, who attended the game, for the most in a season by a Patriots kicker. folk is pretty much automatic, and he has yet to miss a kick of less than 50 yards this season. Having a guy like him is a great thing for any offense, but especially one with a rookie at quarterback.
7. the results are starting to add up. After forcing four more turnovers on Sunday, the Patriots have now posted a total of 17 during their six-game winning streak. his +13 turnover differential over that span is a huge factor in why the Patriots keep winning. However, the key is not only to force turnovers on defense, but also not to turn the ball over on offense – New England did exactly that against a talented Titans defense.
8. brandon bolden and kyle van noy keep making me look stupid. Earlier this season, he was beating the drum on how the Patriots needed to get both Van Noy and Brandon Bolden off the field. both continue to play well. Van Noy has eight pass breakups in the last six games, and he just keeps making big plays. Bolden did not have a carry against Tennessee, but he finished with four receptions for 54 yards. he has stepped into the running back role and has been incredibly important to this offense for several weeks now.
everyone has bad shots, but these two have proven me wrong time and time again. I’m okay with being wrong, especially when it helps the team, so I hope they keep it up and make me look even dumber.
Also, a shout out to Jalen Mills, who has really come into his own after taking a lot of flak from pretty much everyone at the start of the season. Mills had another solid day and has proven to be a capable corner for the Patriots, silencing the haters and shutting down opposing receivers.
9. The winning streak continues. The Patriots have now won six straight, going from 2-4 and virtually out of the game to 8-4 and the second seed in the AFC. for me, as i pointed out last week, the season changed in houston. down 22-9 against a terrible team, they would come back and win. Although they lost to the Dallas Cowboys a week later, they have been playing significantly better ever since.
Since trailing 13 to the Texans, the Patriots have outscored opponents 256-98. They are the hottest team in the NFL, and they have a real shot at making some noise in the playoffs. they’ve been very good on both sides of the ball these last six games and if they continue like that, they’ll be tough to beat down the stretch.
10. A massive game awaits next week. The Patriots currently sit at the top of the AFC East, but the Buffalo Bills are right on their heels. they’ve already had their bye, so the patriots only have the advantage because of the extra win they have. a win would put them at 9-4 and cut the tally to 7-5. on the other hand, a loss would put the accounts back on top, leaving the Patriots with a record of 8-5 and the accounts at 8-4.
what the patriots have done in the last six weeks is very impressive, but a loss next week would crush much of the momentum they have built up. They’ve struggled to get back into a strong playoff position, and a win at Buffalo would give them some breathing space between themselves and the Bills, which would go a long way.
everything new england has done has led to this game. The Patriots now have a chance to take the lead in their division and show that it still goes through Foxborough.
pat is a host of the patriot nation podcast. interact with him on twitter @plane_pats.