The Tennessee Titans turned in a near-flawless performance in dominating the New England Patriots, 34-10, on Sunday. It marked the Titans’ first win over the Patriots since 2002 – a span of seven losses – and moved to Tennessee to 5-4 overall game behind the idle Houston Texans in the AFC South.
The Titans offense put up a season-high in points, as Marcus Mariota outdueled Tom Brady, throwing a pair of touchdown passes in completing 16 of 24 for 228 yards. Tennessee also rushed the ball 36 times for 150 yards and two more scores in chewing up the Patriots.
While the Titans’ offense was busy dominating the scoreboard and time of possession, with nearly 33 minutes time of possession, the defense harassed Brady with three sacks and forced numerous hurried throws from the future Hall of Fame quarterback, who completed just 21 of 41 passes for 254 yards. New England was missing tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was inactive due to back and ankle issues.
After the Titans’ final touchdown at the 7:13 mark that accounted for the final 24-point margin, the Patriots threw in the towel, pulled Brady with 7:13 left and let Brian Hoyer mop up in the game.
“Any time you play one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, a dominant quarterback who’s having a great year, you can’t let him get comfortable,” said linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who had 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks Sunday. “The game plan coming in was not to let him be comfortable back there, and that’s what we did. We stuck to the game plan. They made some plays, but overall it was a pretty impressive game – defensive, offense, special teams.”
Tennessee served notice that it was ready to play on the opening kickoff as Darius Jennings returned the kick 58 yards to the Patriots’ 40. From there, Mariota directed a seven-play drive and hit tight end Jonnu Smith on a 4-yard touchdown pass to put the Titans 7-0.
After the Patriots answered with Stephen Gostkowski’s 52-yard field goal, the Titans went back to work and went 78 yards on nine plays. Mariota dropped the pass right into the arms of Corey Davis for a 23-yard touchdown pass that made the lead, 14-3. Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore was flagged for pass interference on the play, but it was not enough to prevent Davis from making the catch for the touchdown.
“I kind of know that ‘ve got to be more physical and I know I’ve got to go out there and make plays,” said Davis, who caught seven passes for 125 yards from Mariota in the game. “Plus, Marcus was dropping dimes all day.”
Davis was another of the Titans’ big-play weapons, catching seven passes for 125 yards in the game. The Titans didn’t let up, adding a Ryan Succop field goal to go up 17-3 after the first quarter and answering New England’s only TD of the day – a 1-yard James Develin run – with a 1-yard Derrick Henry plunge that made the score 24-10 at halftime.
While Tennessee’s offense made noise early and built a lead, it was the defense that kept the Patriots at bay throughout much of the game, shutting them out in the second half and ending New England’s six-game winning streak in the process.
The Titans, who have been called “Patriots South” for having so many former Patriots players, coaches and even General Manager Jon Robinson with ties to New England, knew the formula for how to take down the Pats on Sunday.
“You can’t go out there and finesse with those types of teams. With really good teams, you’ve got to go out there and do what you do and mano y-mano, not try the finesse game, not trying to scheme, but just going out there and playing man-to-man football, and mix it up. You just can’t beat around the bush with them,” said cornerback Malcolm Butler, one of four former Patriots on the Tennessee roster.
Cornerback Logan Ryan, another of the ex-Patriots, said the Titans embraced the underdog role coming into the game.
“We did a great job switching the defenses and we attacked them. We came in here, and we had nothing to lose. We weren’t favored. Everyone in the national media is going to pick against us in that game. We went out and attacked all day long and kept our foot on the gas and did a great job,” Ryan said.
When it was over, Patriots coach Bill Belichick predictably didn’t have much to say, other than to credit the Titans for their dominant performance.
“There’s really not too much to say here this afternoon,” Belichick said. “The Titans did a better job than we did in every part of the game, every phase of the game. So not a good day for us. We’ve got a lot of work to do here.”