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Patriots vs. Titans: Fan Notes from the Wild Card Round

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 20-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

And that’s the end of that.

Not the conclusion we were all hoping for this season...but I also don’t think it’s an unexpected one either. It just wasn’t in the cards for New England this year, and them’s the breaks. The Patriots now join the 31 other teams whose season won’t end the way they wanted it to...and while New England is the only team whose playoff exit represents the end of an era and a complete collapse, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • This is my first ever Fan Notes from the Wild Card Round. I started writing for Pats Pulpit in 2011. That’s absolutely insane.
  • Prior to last night, the last time New England hosted a team on Wild Card Weekend was in 2009, when a team with a phenomenal running game just blew the doors off this team as the opposing quarterback threw for less than 100 yards. It would appear that if you’re a running team coming to Gillette on the first week of the playoffs, you’re in pretty good shape.
  • At first I was jokingly mad that the Patriots made me do extra work on Wild Card Weekend and forced me to write an extra edition of Fan
  • I think what I’m most grateful for is that Booger McFarland didn’t call this game. I missed almost the entirety of the Bills/Texans game because I still haven’t watched a non-Patrots football game all year, but I did catch the last few minutes of overtime - and what I heard out of McFarland was nothing short of magical. That guy is a national treasure.
  • If I may, I’m going to harness my inner Booger and see if I can capture how he might approach this article, just for a little while.
  • The Patriots started the game by taking the field. When you take the field, you signal to the referees that you’re ready to play football.
  • Tennessee won the toss and chose to defer. That means they kick the ball off first. What Tom Brady is going to do here is take the ball to start the game and try to move down the field and score. If they get in the end zone, that will be a touchdown. But they might have to settle for a field goal attempt, which means they’ll only have three points. But they also might have to punt, and then Tennessee will get the ball.
  • You know that the referees are out there because they’re wearing black and white striped shirts. When you see a flag thrown, you know that’s the referee doing his job.
  • Just once, I wand Booger and Dan Fouts to call a game. Just once.
  • There’s not really a whole lot to say about this game, to be honest; the Patriots played exactly how they have played all season. The offense couldn’t move the ball, they couldn’t punch it in in the red zone, the defense couldn’t stop the run, and drops in key moments ended up dooming this team. I don’t think anybody is sitting here this morning dumbfounded over what they witnessed last night; if you say nothing else about the 2019 Patriots, at least they were consistent.
  • Which is too bad, because Tommy B may have played his best game all year if I’m being honest. Other than a few errant throws, he was accurate, decisive, and motivated. The Patriots just didn’t have enough gas.
  • Which is a phenomenon I have yet to experience.
  • Brady’s best throw of the night might have been an incomplete sideline pass to Sanu towards the middle of the 2nd quarter. It was an absolute laser that would have hit Sanu perfectly in stride for a 33 yard score if Kenny Vaccaro hadn’t made the leaping bat. For all of Brady’s issues this year, he can still sling it.
  • Some of the play-calling and decision making was maddening last night, like the decision to keep going for the toss plays and so blatantly telegraphing screens...but again, that has been the name of the game all season. What I think it ultimately came down to is that the Patriots ended up with a very limited playbook with their struggling offense, and any half-decent team will notice the same looks and adjust accordingly. It goes a long way to explain why the Patriots were shut out in the second half.
  • As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one fullback in Patriots history who can successfully pull off the FB dive. Patrick Pass couldn’t do it. Mark Edwards was bad at it. Heath Evans was inconsistent. Sammy Morris was a disaster, and Elandon Roberts isn’t even a fullback. If it isn’t going to Develin, I don’t want it going anywhere. Get that stupid call out of there and keep it out.
  • New England’s offense was based out of the big stack and tight 3 WR sets that allowed the Patriots a lot of flexibility at the line. Tommy B called an alert on almost every other play and usually made the right call. Between the stretch runs, the screens, the sitdown routes, and the over flats, it was a classic McDaniels/Brady parfait.
  • I officially hate myself for both knowing what a parfait is and using it to cover a professional football game. Moving on.
  • Still, though, there just wasn’t enough consistency and talent to really do anything productive. All you really needed to do to stop the Patriots this year was double cover Edelman, dedicate an athletic linebacker to spy James White out of the backfield, and line up right at the first down marker so Mohamed Sanu knew to break out of his routes two yards too short.
  • The biggest plus I’m taking away from this game is Ben Watson, who may have had his best performance of both of his runs with this team. The odds of him being back next year are as close to zero as it gets, and he brought in some contested catches and would have had the biggest play of the day if not for a mental error (another issue that plagued this team) that drew a flag. He was emotional in the locker room after the game and it sounds like he’s going back into retirement. So thanks, Ben, and enjoy it.
  • Everybody knew that Derrick Henry was going to run a lot. The Patriots opened with a 5-2 base with a 6-1 look with John Simon in the five technique. They switched to their Super Bowl defense when that didn’t work. It didn’t matter. The Titans stuffed it right down New England’s throat all game and that was that.
  • Which is yet another reason why I’m perfectly fine with this loss. When a team isn’t good at something and another team exploits that weakness, all you can really do is tip your cap.
  • When the Titans faced third and more than four, they were useless. It just happened so rarely. Ryan Tannehill only passed for 72 yards. That tells you all you need to know.
  • Let’s all keep something in mind here, especially those who really want to pile on the D. The Titans offense only had 272 yards. They averaged 4.8 yards per play. Henry went off, sure...but they only scored 14 points. Two touchdowns and a field goal from the offense would have won this game. Like a nerd on prom night, New England just couldn’t score.
  • I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. I’ve also gotten drunk and thought I’d seen a lot of things in my life only to realize that I should probably cut back on the hooch. But one thing I never thought I’d see was Snoop Dogg, working at Dunkin’ Donuts, pushing a plant-based sausage substitute. The Roaring ‘20s are off to a good start.
  • I’m also still 100% convinced I could tell a regular Whopper from an Impossible Whopper. I may never actually put my claim to the test, but my conviction is strong here.
  • Two things in particular defined not only this game, but the 2019 Patriots in a nutshell:
  • Patrick Chung, a key starter, got injured. He was replaced by Terrence Brooks, who immediately gave up a touchdown.
  • As the Patriots were driving, with good field position and the chance to take the lead, the most prolific receiver in Patriots history had a pass bounce right off his chest on 2nd and 6 that would have given the Patriots a new set of downs. New England couldn’t convert on third down and had to punt.
  • If those two plays don’t sum up this team as a whole, I don’t know what does.
  • On a side note... good for the Bills, and congrats to Buffalo on a hell of a season. Bills fans are probably thinking it’s just more of the same having blown a 16 point lead, but I think that when the dust settles they’ll end up feeling great about what 2020 is going to bring for that team.
  • Last night’s game might be the first time ever that good old Duron Harmon had a fourth quarter interception and the team still ended up losing.
  • Poor Mike Vrabel. The media must be crucifying him today over the devious, shady scumbaggery that was manipulating the clock late in the game in order to take maxiumm seconds off the clock and give his team the best chance to win. Bill Belichick did that earlier this year and they lambasted him for it, so I don’t envy Vrabel for the thrashing he’s undoubtedly getting today, no way no how.
  • OR...maybe that’s just what good coaches do. They see a loophole in the rules and use that loophole to their advantage. If they league doesn’t like it, they change it the following season and dock the Patriots a few draft picks.
  • I absolutely loved Mike Vrabel as a Patriot, think he’s one of the more underrated players of the early 2000s teams, and am genuinely happy for him in this win. There are a lot of people who woke up this morning with a massive smile on their face because the Patriots lost and the dynasty is now apparently dead (just like it was in 2008. And 2009. And 2011. And 2012. And 2013. And 2015. And when the Pats lost to the Eagles), but this must have been a particularly satisfying win for Vrabel, who is now 2-0 against Belichick. Vrabel took the trade that sent him to the Chiefs in 2009 personally and he didn’t speak to Belichick for a few years; he says he’s over it - it’s just business - but still, I bet this win is especially sweet for him.
  • There was a point late in the fourth where Derrick Henry bounced it outside and the only defender left to make the stop was JC Jackson. If there was ever a moment to watch a tackle with one eye closed, that was it.
  • I’ll close out these Fan Notes with an embarrassing confession: the wood chucking woodchuck Geico ad made me laugh. I tried really, really hard to fight it. But it got to me. Don’t know what to tell you.
  • Has there been any speculation anywhere over the last few days over whether Tommy B has taken the field in Foxboro for the last time? I haven’t heard anything anywhere.
  • To that end: as is always the case when the Patriots don’t win the Super Bowl, aka every other year or so, this is going to be a very long offseason of speculation, unnamed sources, hot takes, and overall nincompoopery regarding the future of the Patriots, where Tom Brady will play next season, the collapse of the dynasty, and all that jazz. We’ve all heard it a million times before, but this year is going to be three times as bad. Tom Brady will be a free agent soon and his future is unclear. He and the Patriots will ultimately sit down and decide what to do, and whatever that decision will be mutual and agreeable. I personally think he’ll be back on another one year deal, but who knows. Nobody knows. Nobody has any clue whatsoever, and anyone who goes on the radio or television or internet to tell you what’s what has no clue either. Don’t worry about any of that. It’s been an amazing two decades, and maybe there’s another magical run in the cards down the line.
  • Congrats to Tennessee - I can’t wait to see Titans vs. Ravens. The over/under for rushing yards in that game might be four digits by the time the game starts.
  • And thanks to everyone for spending another season on Pats Pulpit reading these Fan Notes - always a blast to write, and each and every year I’m blown away by the number of people who connect with my incoherent ramblings. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if I hadn’t found this community and website, I honestly don’t know if I’d still be watching football anymore. I haven’t been to a mainstream sports news website in years. I only watch ESPN when they’re broadcasting a game. I’ve lost all respect for 90% of the sports journalists out there and gained even more respect for that last 10% who actually report facts. So its Pats Pulpit and the other SBNation sites or bust for me, and I’m incredibly grateful for everyone that allows me the opportunity to be a member of this blog. The staff here is amazing, the commenters are amazing - even all of you jerks who come here just looking to rub it in, I love you too - and the community is amazing. We’re living in interesting times right now, to say the least, and Pats Pulpit has been a bastion of normalcy throughout it. So again, thank you.

And with that, we close the books on a fairly forgettable 2019 season.

The Patriots went 12-4. Yawn.

They won their division for the 11th straight year. Wake me up when it’s over.

They saw their QB become the 2nd All Time Passing Leader. 2nd place is the first loser.

They didn’t win the Super Bowl. Dynasty over.


We’ll see. But for now, enjoy the playoffs, and when you need a break from the “Tom Brady is done” talk, stop on by.