Nashville -- Well, who expected this (not me) - for sure. The thought was that the Pats would head into the bye week with an 8-2 record. The Titans had lost three straight games before the bye week and beat Dallas Monday Night. But the Cowboys have a lot of problems so the Titans were taken lightly. Marcus Mariota had thrown only one touchdown pass in his last 27 first quarters and he threw two Sunday in a 34-10 throbbing at the hands of the Titans. Fans were calling the Pats defense a bend and break defense not long after the game started.
The loss could be blamed on a number of factors: exhaustion before the bye including a potential illness going through in the locker room, a defense that looked like it did in their previous two road losses to Jacksonville and Detroit early in the season and an offense that looked vulnerable without its star tight end Rob Gronkowski. The pass rush against the Titans was poor after the Pats had their best rush of the season against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday Night. Marcus Mariota had time to throw the ball and he found his best receiver Corey Davis 7 times for 125 yards. Stephon Gilmore picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season. The Pats gave up three catches for 45 yards to unheard of Titans wide receiver Jonnu Smith who caught the game's first touchdown to make it 7-3. Former Pats LB and Titans coach Mike Vrabel had his players well prepared.
"We knew it was going to be a man to man game and that excited us," Davis said afterward. "It was us versus them. Ocho (Mariota) was out there and put the ball where it needed to be. Everything comes down to me versus you. Who wants it more."
Added the soften spoken Gilmore, "I could won that matchup a little bit more, but he made some plays today. I have to give my hats off to them," Gilmore said.
On Sunday, it is clear the Titans wanted it more. Defensively, the Pats were lethargic. It didn't help that the Titans opened the game with a long kick return. Seven plays later, the Titans were in the end zone. Corey Davis caught a beautifully thrown Marcus Mariota touchdown pass later in the first quarter and the Titans led 17-3. The Pats made it interesting in the second quarter when a James Develin touchdown run made it 17-10. The Titans, however, put the game away essentially when they scored on a Derrick Henry touchdown run just before the half to make it 24-10. It didn't help that the Titans started the drive at the Pats 37. The Titans played what the Pats had preached all year - good complimentary football. They pinned the Pats deep in their own territory, forced the Pats to punt, then had a good return and an additional five yard penalty didn't help either.
Also, concerning was the Pats run defense which gave up 150 rushing yards. Former Pats RB Deion Lewis ran for 57 yards and Henry had 58 yards. When the Titans had to run the ball late they ran it. The Pats run defense was improving with Malcom Brown showing the type of talent the past few weeks that made him worthy of a first round pick, but Sunday at Nissan Stadium progress was stopped. The Titans scored only 10 points in the second half - but they didn't need to score because the Pats were shutout in the second half. Henry closed the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown run after the ball was snapped to directly to him.
The Titans opened their final touchdown drive with a completion to Marcus Mariota and then ran five straight times for the closing score. The drive was only possible because of the Pats struggles on their previous drive. The Pats had completed a pass to Tom Brady on their previous drive to make it fourth and one. Brady fell to the ground before the first down. Then Marcus Cannon had a terrible false start penalty to make it fourth and six. Then former Pats CB Logan Ryan broke up a pass intended for Josh Gordon.
Gordon said the offense looked rusty. He had to be impressed with Adoree Jackson who covered Gordon well. It is no surprise that Bill Belichick was impressed with Jackson when he came out of the draft. Gordon had one catch in the second half (four catches, 81 yards overall). Julian Edelman had his standard nine catches for 104 yards. There was, however, little contributions from anyone else. For the first time all season, James White was a non-factor with five catches for 31 yards. For the second straight week, Chris Hogan had no catches.
Belichick said little afterwards regarding how this bad loss would affect the team's plans for the bye.
"We will deal with this week, this week. Right now, we were focused on coming in here and playing this game. That's what we did. The was over 10 minutes ago, so we will deal with next week, next week. We've been trying to focus on this game," Belichick said.
The Pats could certainly use the rest to get Rob Gronkowski healthy, Sony Michel didn't look 100 percent after missing the last two games because of a knee injury, Trent Brown tried to play despite an illness but ultimately did not make it through the game, and Julian Edelman left with an ankle injury. Still, the team has won seven of its first 10 games. No one better to assess where the Pats stand than ace special teamer Matthew Slater.
"We have done some good things to be competitive down the stretch, but certainly need to improve in a lot areas for us to be the type of team we hope to be. I don't think we need a monumental overhaul or change who we are. We need to do the little things better in order to play more consistently and consistency is what we are lacking right now,“ Slater said.
As for how the Pats can play better on the road where they are 2-3, Slater said the team needs to play with more energy.
"I don't think we had great energy today. We didn't come out with enough juice and it showed," Slater said.
Tom Brady put it more simply.
"When you don't play well, you don't win," Brady said.