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Patriots vs. Titans: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 33-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I'd put "no more injuries to the Patriots" on my Christmas list this year, but I know better than to ask for something that I'm just not going to get. I learned my lesson way back in the 80s when I asked for a Power Wheels, only to be roundly hosed by the Big Man on Christmas morning to crush my dreams.

But other than the injuries (yes, I have now cut-and-pasted that phrase into these articles several times this year), Week 15 in the NFL fell very much in New England's favor. Not only did they handily beat the Titans, but the Giants lost, the Bills were officially eliminated from playoff contention - there are now newly licensed drivers that have never been alive for a Bills playoff game - and the Steelers erased a 14 point halftime deficit and beat the Denver Broncos to guarantee at least a two seed for the Patriots. Not a bad day overall. As we all enter into Christmas week and get ready to tolerate friends and family over egg nog and holiday ham, it will be good to know that New England will be getting a much, much needed rest before they host yet another postseason contest.

It's December 21st and I haven't even started my holiday shopping yet, so let's get right to it so I can duck out of work early and raid the Walmart discount bin.

  • Ahhhh. 1PM game, New England defers. This is how you spend a Sunday.
  • To that end, if you have never been to a Pats game in December when it's a day like it was yesterday, I highly advise it. Sunny, not too cold, playoff implications on the line, hydrated fans as far as the eye can see...just a little piece of heaven.
  • I had no idea that Anthony Fasano was still in the NFL until I saw him in the starting lineup. Good for him.
  • Tennessee went three and out and punted and I didn't know whether to clap or cringe at the fact that they had to punt. Especially when Amendola didn't call the fair catch and took a big hit almost immediately. But hey, he didn't fumble!
  • That punt, at least.
  • How about Brandon LaFell making a catch, gaining yards, and there not being a flag on the play? There's a first for everything this season.
  • You could pretty much call this game based on each team's first two offensive drives - a three and out cut short by an inaccurate Mariota pass from Tennessee, and New England went 79 yards on 11 plays for the score where Tommy B was seven for seven on the drive. That was more or less the end of this one and at no point were the Titans threatening.
  • Of the many, many reasons to prefer 1 PM games over primetime ones, one of the more underrated is how you get to switch over to other games instead of being forced to sit through awful commercials. There are only so many "Santa delivering cars" and "the only way to show a woman you love her is to blow a lot of money on a ring" and "guys only wanting to hang out with someone because he brought Tostitos" commercials a man can take.
  • I don't know what it is about that Tostitos Rolls commercial - Tim! We need to hang out more! - but there's one guy in it who I just want to slap every time he comes on screen. He's the "pass the queso" guy, with his unruly mop of black hair and that look on his face like he simply can't comprehend how delicious chips and dip are when he takes a bite. I can't stand that guy. Zero chance that he was a Seahawks fan before 2012.
  • New England didn't show any respect for the deep ball in their defensive base. I think it was a 4-3 Cover, but corner and linebacker alike were lined up right on the line of scrimmage and both the Mike and the Sam were consistently showing blitz and backing off. Exactly the kind of scheme you'd expect Patricia to show a rookie QB still learning the ropes.
  • I wish I knew two best friends named Mike and Sam who were also really into football. That would be a treasure trove of comedic material.
  • And by "comedic material," I mean a whole bunch of jokes that only I find funny.
  • What goes into the thought process behind a fan who decides to wear a Santa beard to a game in December? You know for a fact you aren't going to be the only one doing it. Those beards are itchy as hell. Even if the camera does catch you, nobody will know who it is. And unless you're a big fat dynamo of a guy, it's probably going to fall flat.
  • With yet another new combination along the offensive line, interior pressure continues to be a problem. It's late December, so at this point it pretty much is what it is. Looking ahead to the postseason, there are a fair number of teams that know how to dial it up on the inside. Going to need the running game to be a threat in order to help neutralize that.
  • And to that end, I don't think I've ever seen so many people so excited about a 51 yard rushing day as they are about Joey Iosefa, myself included. 3.6 yards a carry isn't great, but he had that one 15 yard run where he absolutely pancaked Coty Sensabaugh and knocked him over like he was playing offensive lineman for the Patriots. In a year that has seen our big, burly, clock-killing back simply unable to truck stick anyone, it was nice to see.
  • Plus, I now have the exact metaphor I'm looking for when I approach an attractive woman at a bar and get immediately rebuffed.
  • Shoutout to the award-winning CBS broadcast team for getting so thoroughly lost on the Chandler Jones strip sack that by the time the camera cut back the ball had already traveled into the end zone for a Patriots score. I only knew something good had happened based on the crowd reaction.
  • And when I can only tell something is happening based on the reaction of the fans at Gillette Stadium, you know you done messed up.
  • Flashback to the last time the Patriots played the Titans: Chandler Jones had a strip sack that Dont'a Hightower picked up and returned for a TD. Two rookie first rounders (at the time) making an immediate impact. Safe to say those two guys worked out. If Jones wants to make a strip sack returned for a score something of a Tennessee tradition, I'm cool with it.
  • There wasn't anything special about that play either; Jones just lined up in the seven technique, a little wider than usual, pushed Taylor Lewan back, (shockingly) drew an illegal hands to the face penalty, and got a hand in to swat the ball free.
  • Another positive from that play: Mariota was targeting Harry Douglas, who was up against Malcolm Butler. Douglas was going deep and ran a very nice Out and Up pattern, the exact kind of pattern that Butler has been burned by several times this season. But Butler stayed right with him and was well positioned to break the pass up had Mariota gotten the throw off.
  • This is absolutely absurd in regards to punt returns. Inexplicable and absurd. Just fair catch it from here on out. Or don't even put a guy back there, I don't care anymore. Nothing changes the complexion of the game more than a muffed punt.
  • Although I'm inclined to give Amendola a pass for his fumble and instead blame our very own Rich Hill, who said during our Podcast after the Eagles game, and I quote: "This was the last time we're going to see any bungled special teams plays." With a line like that, you knew it was just a matter of time.
  • If Allstate had any sense, they'd stay far away from sponsoring the Patriots. There are no good hands anywhere in sight when it comes to punts.
  • Me when Keyshawn Martin took the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone: "No, Keyshawn! You're going to fumble it!"
  • Me when Keyshawn Martin returned it to the Titans 30: "Great run, Keyshawn! Where's the flag?"
  • Me when Keyshawn Martin returned it to the Titans 30 and there was no flag: "Great run, Keyshawn! Who got hurt?"
  • That James White screen run for a TD might be my favorite Patriots score of the year. Phenomenal patience from White waiting for his blocks to develop, great hustle by the linemen getting out there, nice vision from White diagnosing the gap, and phenomenal blocking at the second level from LaFell and Amendola. Well-timed playcall too from the sidelines. Just a perfect example of the entire offense doing its job well.
  • That TD came off of a huge defensive stop on a short field and a great kickoff return as well. Team points all day.
  • I don't like the success of inside runs that the Titans had yesterday. There were a lot of 2nd and sixes after a four yard rush up the gut.
  • Dan Fouts hands down models his announcing style after John Madden and I love him for it. Not since Madden has a commentator mastered the art of simply stating the blatantly obvious and passing it off as analysis. A few gems from yesterday:
  • "Theyr'e currently putting a knee brace on Marcus Mariota, which means he'll be on the sidelines and unavailable for this upcoming play."
  • "It's 4th down, and Tennessee's gonna go for it here. If they don't convert, it's going to be New England's ball."
  • "That false start penalty is going to put the Patriots back five yards. Now they have to get more yards if they want to keep the drive alive."
  • Fouts may be my favorite now.
  • Leonard Johnson continues to impress. One thing I didn't notice from last week's game against Houston was his tackling ability. He wraps guys up right away and they don't fall forward.
  • I'd actually extend that to say that the tackling in general was outstanding yesterday. In the past guys catching a ball two yards shy of the first down marker would have fallen forward for three extra yards, but in yesterday's game they were stood up right where the catch was made and any further progress was impeded.
  • I deleted a joke here about wrapping guys up like a holiday present and not falling forward the way we all do at out office holiday party. You're welcome, everyone. Merry Christmas.
  • Did Brandon Bolden always have such an effective jump-cut?
  • Twice yesterday Tommy B almost turtled and took a sack that wasn't forthcoming. I can't say I blame him in the slightest for hearing footsteps at this point in the season, but that's not something you want to see.
  • I hope LeGarrette Blount was watching this game so he can see what it looks like when a back lowers his shoulder and makes contact.
  • In case any of you were wondering what the FXFL is... it stands for the Fall Experimental Football League. It's basically the NFL's attempt at a feeder system, much the way professional baseball and hockey do it. Iosefa played for the Brooklyn Bolts.
  • And no, I didn't know any of that until I Googled it.
  • It's pretty obvious that the Patriots came out of the locker room thinking that the game was already over and decided to mail it in to start the 3rd quarter. A crappy offensive drive, a bad punt team play, and a crappy defensive drive gave the Titans life.
  • It's easy to knock the lackluster offensive performance yesterday, but I think it was by design. Once they were up 21-3, New England seemed perfectly content to just take it easy, milk the clock, and run the ball to set up the short pass. The defense wasn't giving anything up and guys are starting to get healthy. The thought was that there was no need to do anything foolish and risk further injury. Great idea in theory, but that's just not how it works in reality - kind of like the Arch Deluxe.
  • I love having a kicker who is so good when he misses a FG people legit start questioning whether he's worth the money he's getting paid.
  • Brady was very inaccurate to start the 3rd quarter, with two throws right into the dirt. Why not just keep running the ball?
  • New England was in position to have a touchdown/halftime/touchdown double dip to completely put the game away. Instead they generated a missed field goal/halftime/three and out scenario that led to a Titans touchdown. No thanks.
  • That Titans TD also meant that the Patriots had a 14 point 3rd quarter lead, which made me absolutely miserable.
  • What the hell was Stafford supposed to do on that LaFell catch? I know it was helmet to helmet, and technically the correct call...but come on. That's garbage. LaFell loved the hit and shook Stafford's hand afterward.
  • Logan Ryan had his worst game of the season yesterday, giving up 113 yards to Dorial Green-Beckham (who I like a lot, by the way. That's a player to keep an eye on). He got turned around, wasn't looking for the ball, and generally got picked on all afternoon. The man is entitled to a bad game, and he has been lights out all season, so I'll let it slide. But that's it. Time to get back to work. There's a pretty solid receiver tandem coming up next week and homefield advantage is on the line.
  • Of the many, many things that continue to make the game of professional football all but unwatchable, one of the biggest culprits is that goddam touchdown/commercial/kickoff for touchback/commercial sequence that happens multiple times per game all across the league. There are so many more effective ways to allocate purchased ad space without breaking contractual obligation. Why not make halftime three minutes longer and take longer breaks between quarters? As long as you play the required number of ads, what does it matter when you do it? We won't be paying attention regardless of when the ads run, so you can at least try to regain some continuity.
  • If I had to sum up the Patriots 2015 season up to this point, I would point to the 3rd down play in yesterday's game that went from a sack, to an escape, to a pick, to a Titans first down on a defensive holding penalty that also resulted in an injury to one of the team's most important players. That's this entire year encapsulated in one play.
  • A 17 point lead in the 4th quarter at home is totally enough, right?
  • Up big in the fourth, have blown leads in the past, guys hurt, want to just get out of here with the win,  Gronk still in, keep throwing it, Brady taking sacks, we all have to know that this happened. Good playcalling there, Pete Carroll.
  • Jamie Collins still isn't 100% yet. Lost some strength from the illness, as evidenced by yesterday's missed tackles.
  • Good Lord I hate prevent defense. These soft zones to ensure long drives are the safe play, but maddening to sit through.
  • It's about time Malcolm Butler notched another pick, as it gives me an excuse - one I really don't ever need - to post his first one.
  • Not to harp on that Super Bowl pick too much...but I think my favorite part of it all these months later is listening to Chris Collinsworth unsuccessfully try to contain his rage. OK, Back to the action!
  • Phew! I thought for a second there the Patriots were going to go a full game without an injury, a botched punt, a defensive penalty on 3rd down, and an OPI. Good for Keyshawn Martin for recognizing the hole.
  • For the record, Martin was maybe nine inches off the line of scrimmage on that bump there, and he and the defender made contact at the same time. You're allowed contact within one yard. Just a quick reminder.
  • This was an extremely lackluster performance from two out of the three units on this Patriots team. Thanks to the defense, once again, for carrying more than your share of the weight.
  • The name Ryan Succop will never not be funny.
  • Maybe I should have amended that last note to FOR THE LOVE OF TEBOW JUST RUN THE BALL WITH JOE IOSEFA AND GET OUT OF HERE
  • That Tommy B throw, amid heavy pressure, off his back foot, to LaFell gave me an absolute heart attack. That throwing motion is usually the kind that ends up in the hands of a safety.
  • And did LaFell get hurt on that catch, or am I just so conditioned to assume injury that I'm seeing limps where there aren't any limps?
  • And then they go for the throat with Go Routes to Gronk so he can take some more punishment. Great stuff.
  • That field goal drive to make it 30-16 could have ended with about 2 minutes on the clock. Instead Tennessee got it back with 3:30 to play and a timeout.
  • And no - I still wasn't comfortable with a 14 point lead with less than three minutes to play. 14 point leads are bad. I've learned my lesson.
  • "Oh good! A Patriots player is on the sidelines limping! All cameras zoom in!" - Every CBS producer yesterday.
  • Is that the first Jamie Collins pick he didn't try to lateral and then fumble? I think it is. Good for him.
  • And after the Collins pick, who comes back on the field? ALL OF THE STARTERS. Why?
  • I'm using this season as the ultimate example of why it makes infinitely more sense to give the backup QBs meaningful reps late during games where the score has gotten out of hand. There should be an unwritten rule in place that, during a blowout, the backup will come in and try to score points with the offense when in case injuries happen and he's needed when it matters. It won't be considered a dick move if the backup comes in with four minutes left up 21 and goes no huddle, 5-wide. Get these guys some snaps so we don't have to witness one decent game and 15 steaming piles of crap every week. Preventing injury is one thing - but how many backups are starting in the NFL right now? And how many of those backups have gotten enough in-game reps to be effective? It just makes good sense. The Pats are as guilty of this as any team in the league.

Another 12 win season, another first-round bye, another legit shot at making the Super Bowl. To be honest, I'm not fully sure if I have found a way to convince myself that all of these injuries aren't going to come back to haunt this team or if that actually is the case, but either way this is a great way to start a short week of work and a well-deserved holiday break. Win one of the next two, and the road to SB50 goes through New England. Can't ask for a much better Christmas present than that.