Entering their Week 12 matchup with the Tennessee Titans the New England Patriots had given up 250-plus rushing yards in only four games under head coach Bill Belichick. Interestingly enough, though, they were 3-1 in those games.
Make that 4-1 now. Despite allowing Tennessee to rush for 270 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries, the Patriots were able to win 36-13.
That final score is somewhat deceiving, however. The Titans kept the game close for much of the afternoon and put considerable pressure on New England on both sides of the ball. The Patriots, however, were able to pull away late to celebrate their sixth straight win.
A big part of that was their defense’s ability to keep bending without actually breaking.
“Of course we’re not happy with  rushing yards, but we made enough plays on defense — forced fumbles, picks,” said defensive tackle Davon Godchaux after the contest. “Any time you give up as a defensive lineman a hundred yards rushing, that’s not a good day. But today, I’ll take it. 13 points. Yards don’t beat you but points do. We gave up 13 points and we scored 36, so we won again.”
While the Patriots did give up 270 yards on the ground, they were stout against the pass. New England, oftentimes using a lighter defensive look that invited Tennessee to run the football, gave up just 85 net passing yards; quarterback Ryan Tannehill went 11-for-21 for 93 yards with a touchdown and an interception each.
That interception was a key play in the game, ending a fourth-quarter goal-line stand in the Patriots’ favor. The pick itself was made by none other than Mr. INT himself, cornerback J.C. Jackson.
“As a defense, we talk about creating turnovers every day,” Jackson said after the game. “Every day we punch at that ball, catching picks. What you do in practice, that’s going to carry over into the game.”
On the day, New England had four takeaways. Jackson had his hands in two of them: he also forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Jalen Mills in the third quarter. Safety Kyle Dugger and linebacker Jahlani Tavai also successfully recovered fumbles.
The takeaways made all the difference in the world for the Patriots, and allowed their defense to keep Tennessee off the scoreboard in the second half. In total, the former top seed in the AFC was held without points on eight of its 10 non-kneel-down possessions.
Mike Vrabel’s team came close to scoring more points, but at the end of the day New England made the stops when it had to — ending promising-looking possessions before they became dangerous.
“Just a grind-it-out game,” said safety Devin McCourty about the contest. “It was that type of game. I think our offense battled, we battled, and we came away with a victory. We know it keeps getting harder for the rest of the season, we just have to keep getting better and keep playing our best ball.”