The New England Patriots got another win — their sixth in a row — against a heavily injured but highly competitive Tennessee Titans squad. The win keeps the 8-4 Patriots atop the AFC East, and in striking distance of the top seed in the conference.
With that said, let’s get into the takeaways from the game.
1. Mac Jones has an up-and-down day. Looking at his numbers, you would think that Mac Jones had a great game. The first-round rookie went 23-for-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 nice plays, but he also missed a good amount of throws, including a wide open Hunter Henry for what would have been a walk-in touchdown. He also sailed a few passes, and almost threw a pick-six that, luckily, was dropped by the Titans’ linebacker.
At the end of the day, Jones made a good amount of solid throws and did enough to win the game. That’s all that matters. He’s still a rookie, and there are times that 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, coming down with both receiving touchdowns for them. The first was a fantastic catch that he ripped away from Kevin Byard in the back of the end zone. The second was a 41-yard tip-toe down the sideline where he broke a few tackles along the way.
Bourne is becoming one of Jones’ most reliable targets, and is starting to look like one of the best free agent signings of the offseason. He also brings plenty of energy to the team, and seems to be a guy that other players love. The Patriots and their fans should be quite happy that Bourne is on this team.
One side note about his long touchdown: the play by Jakobi Meyers to spring him was amazing. Unable to throw a real block because of the peel-back block rules, he just got in the way, throwing an NBA-like screen to give Bourne room to run down the sideline. A smart play from another smart receiver.
3. The run defense struggles. I feel like “struggles” may not be a strong enough word. The run defense was abysmal, and approaching embarrassing. The 68-yard touchdown it allowed at the end of the first half is completely unacceptable and simply cannot happen. That was far from the only problem, however, as the unit was gashed all day long: excluding one Ryan Tannehill kneel-down to end the first half, the Titans finished with an average of 7.1 yards per carry.
As Devon Godchaux pointed out after the game, “yards don’t beat you, points do.” Unbelievably, the Patriots are now 4-1 under Bill Belichick when giving up at least 250 yards on the ground. It’s a stat that makes no sense, but also makes perfect based on what we know about Belichick.
Still, the Patriots are going to have a lot of work to do to fix their issues. There are some very good running teams at the top of the AFC, after all.
4. J.C. Jackson keeps finding ways to make plays. Mr. INT now has 24 career interceptions, which is third most in NFL history in a player’s first four seasons. The biggest play of the day by him was not his pick but his forced fumble in the third quarter.
The game was 19-13 in the Patriots’ favor, and the Titans were on their first drive of the second half. D’Onta Foreman broke free from the defense and took off for a 30-yard gain, but Jackson punched the ball out and Jalen Mills jumped on it. If Jackson doesn’t knock the football out, who knows how that drive ends, and the outcome of the game might have been much different.
Jackson has been one of the best corners in football this season, and yesterday was no different. He’s earned himself a whole bunch of money, and the hope is that Robert Kraft will be giving him that money this offseason.
5. The running game has a hard time. Not only did the Patriots struggle to stop the run, they also had some real trouble running the ball themselves. They wound up gaining 105 yards, but they had almost nothing in the middle all day.
Rhamondre Stevenson had a fantastic 19-yard run late in the game, where he broke multiple tackles and showed an outrageous amount of contact balance. Damien Harris also had 21 yards on back-to-back carries, the last one a 14-yard touchdown run. Take those three away, however, and New England’s average is not great.
The Patriots have been dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball the last few weeks, but the Titans were the ones doing the dominating on Sunday. The good news is that New England was still able to get the win, but it is going to have to be better at running the 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 insane, since Bill Belichick’s dad literally wrote the book on kicking and punting — Folk put on a clinic at Gillette Stadium. He missed a 53-yard attempt late in the second quarter, but he hit field goals of 22, 37, 44, 28, and 52 yards out.
To add onto that, Folk has now hit five kicks of 50+ yards, tying Stephen Gostkowski — who was in attendance for the game — for the most in one season by a Patriots kicker. Folk is just about automatic, and still has not missed a kick under 50 yards this season. Having a guy like him is a really nice thing for any offense, but especially one quarterbacked by a rookie.
7. Takeaways are starting to pile up. After forcing four more turnovers on Sunday, the Patriots have now registered a total of 17 during their six-game winning streak. Their +13 turnover differential over that span is a huge factor why the Patriots keep winning. The key is not only forcing the turnovers on defense, though, but also not turning the ball over on offense: New England did just that against a talented Titans defense.
8. Brandon Bolden and Kyle Van Noy keep making me look stupid. I was banging the drum earlier this season about how the Patriots needed to get both Van Noy and Brandon Bolden off the field. Both of them just continue to play well. Van Noy has eight pass breakups in the last six games, and he simply keeps making big plays. Bolden did not have a carry against Tennessee, but finished with four catches for 54 yards. He has taken over the passing back role, and has been incredibly important to this offense for multiple weeks now.
Everyone has bad takes, but these two have proven me wrong over and over again. I’m fine with being wrong, especially when it helps the team, so I hope they keep it up and make me look even more dumb.
Also, a shoutout to Jalen Mills, who has really come into his own after receiving lots of criticism from pretty much everyone at the beginning of the season. Mills had another solid day, and has proven to be a capable corner for the Patriots, shutting haters up and opposing receivers down.
9. The winning streak continues. The Patriots have now won six straight games, and have gone from 2-4 and pretty much out of it to 8-4 and the second seed in the AFC. To me, as pointed out last week, the season changed in Houston. Down 22-9 to a terrible team, they would come back and win. Although they lost to the Dallas Cowboys one week later, they have been playing significantly better from that moment on.
Since being down 13 to the Texans, the Patriots have outscored their 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 have been very good on both sides of the ball these last six games and if they keep this up, they’re going to 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 have had their bye already, so the Patriots only have the lead because of the extra win they have. A win would put them at 9-4, and knock the Bills down to 7-5. On the other hand, a loss would put the Bills back on top, leaving the Patriots with an 8-5 record and the Bills at 8-4.
What the Patriots have done the last six weeks is very impressive, but a loss next week would crush a lot of the momentum they have built up. They have fought to get back into a solid playoff position, and a win in Buffalo would put some breathing room between themselves and the Bills, which would be very helpful.
Everything New England has done has led to this game. The Patriots now have the chance to take a commanding lead in their division, and to show that it still runs through Foxborough.