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Instant analysis from Patriots’ 36-13 win over Titans

Observations from Sunday’s AFC encounter at Gillette Stadium.

Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

The New England Patriots defeated the Tennessee Titans by a score of 36-13 Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

In the process, the No. 1 seed in the AFC inched closer for a team standing with six wins in a row.

Here’s a glance through what went into it as both New England and Tennessee near December with an 8-4 record.

Jones eclipses 300 passing yards with two touchdowns to Bourne

Mac Jones had thrown eight incompletions over his prior two starts under center for the Patriots.

As temperatures neared freezing against the Titans, the rookie quarterback out of Alabama stayed warm. Jones went 23-of-32 passing on Sunday for 310 yards and two touchdowns to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.

There would be a corner route over safety Kevin Byard on New England’s first drive that the March arrival retrieved from the April arrival. There would also be a tight-roping shallow cross for 41 yards in the third quarter. A deep shot to Jakobi Meyers, who delivered the decisive block on Bourne’s latter score, surfaced in between. It netted 38 yards before halftime as the team’s receptions leader landed on his back with the football in hand.

Tennessee’s roster battles through attrition at the skill positions

A Titans roster already without reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry and NFL All-Decade selection Julio Jones saw six players ruled out on the final injury report. Those six included running back Jeremy McNichols as well as wide receiver A.J. Brown, who was moved to injured reserve on the eve of the 1 p.m. ET kickoff.

In the backfield, Titans started Dontrell Hilliard against a Patriots defense heavily in base personnel. Hilliard would lose possession on a fumble forced by defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and recovered by safety Kyle Dugger. But the recent signing from the practice squad broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown run before the half. Alongside him, D’Onta Foreman had a 34-yard run recovered by cornerback Jalen Mills.

Tennessee’s two backs combined for 140 yards on 31 carries by game’s end. And in the absence of a 2020 Pro Bowler out wide, the receiver depth chart had Nick Westbrook-Ikhine stretching across the plane in the first quarter for what became a successful challenge.

Judon closes in on Tannehill, stands with 11.5 sacks

The red sleeves of Matt Judon greeted Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the game’s initial third down. Around the left tackle the outside linebacker went on a play in which the Patriots rushed only three. It brought a loss of eight yards as the punt team stepped on. And for Judon, it brought him to 11.5 sacks on the season as his career high extended higher.

That tally ranks behind only the 12.5 sacks that Chandler Jones notched in 2015 and Mike Vrabel notched in 2007 for the most by a New England player under head coach Bill Belichick.

Judon would later be penalized for roughing the passer on Tannehill, who completed his first eight throws yet finished 11-of-21 for 93 yards with a touchdown and a turnover.

Jackson makes it seven

Down at the goal line on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter, J.C. Jackson turned a tip from Patriots captain Devin McCourty into a turnover.

It went in the books as the cornerback’s seventh interception of the season. It also went in the books as his 24th through 57 NFL games against 16 different quarterbacks.

Jackson had forced a fumble prior to the pick, which was intended in the back of the end zone for fellow former Patriots undrafted free agent Cody Hollister, an elevation from the practice squad.

‘You’ve got to handle’ the pressure from Simmons and Landry

Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry III entered Sunday having combined for 17.5 sacks, 33 quarterback hits and 22 tackles for loss on the season for Tennessee. The defensive tackle from Mississippi State and the outside linebacker from Boston College would be credited with nine total tackles from there.

“Up front, you’ve got to handle the big guys,” Belichick said during his Wednesday press conference. “You’ve got to handle Simmons and then Landry and the pass rush. They’re a typical Mike team.”

It would be the same combination of offensive linemen as the previous two weeks. The Patriots started Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, Ted Karras at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Trent Brown at right tackle. Mike Onwenu again served as the sixth man. The pass protection conceded a pair of sacks.

Former Titans tight end logs season-best 58 scrimmage yards

Jonnu Smith started 53 games as a Titan after landing at pick No. 100 overall in the 2017 NFL draft. The tight end scored 17 touchdowns from scrimmage over that span before agreeing to terms with the Patriots on a four-year, $50 million pact in March.

The reunion came Sunday.

Smith handled an end-around rush for nine yards on his first chance with the football. He proceeded to draw four looks in the passing game. Those looks became three completions for 49 yards, including catch-and-run pickups of 16 and 13 yards on consecutive snaps. Then came a bootleg pass across the middle in the third quarter for 20 yards.

Patriots’ ground game builds in second half

The Tennessee defense had allowed opponents to reach the century mark in rushing yards only twice on the season, and not since Oct. 10. That appeared to be holding true in Foxborough.

The aforementioned tight end had led the way in rushing yards during the first half. And neither starting running back Damien Harris nor rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson had rushed for a long of more than three yards by intermission.

But Harris finished with 40 yards on 11 carries and a sweeping, screaming touchdown from 14 yards out. Behind him, Stevenson finished with 46 yards on nine carries, including a gain of 19. Veteran Brandon Bolden provided 54 receiving yards out of the backfield through the flurries.

Eventful afternoon for the uprights

As Titans kicker Randy Bullock saw an extra point and a field goal ricochet off the right upright, Patriots kicker Nick Folk made good on a trio of extra points and 5-of-6 attempted field goals.

A 22-yarder, 37-yarder and 44-yarder were among them before a miss from 53 yards with two seconds to go before halftime. What would have tied his season long sailed right. But a 28-yarder as well as a 52-yarder followed.

Folk, while listed as questionable with a left knee injury, has converted on 31 field goals this fall. He surpassed his 2020 total on Sunday.