Patriots vs. Titans thumbs up, thumbs down: Tom Brady, defense fail as Titans run to victory

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By WEEI 93.7

FOXBOROUGH – Playing on Wild Card Weekend for the first time in a decade, the Patriots’ season came to a stunning end as the upstart Titans ran their way to the razor-thin 20-13 victory at Gillette Stadium.

The teams traded drives, leads and punts, but in the end Derrick Henry ran over, around and through the Patriots No. 1 defense to the tune of nearly 200 yards.

The Patriots got on the board first with an 8-play, 57-yard drive to a 36-yard field goal from Nick Folk for the 3-0 lead.

Tennessee answered in dominant fashion though, driving 75 yards in 12 plays – 49 yards on the ground by Henry. The drive concluded with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to tight end Anthony Firkser to give the visitors the 7-3 advantage.

One impressive drive led to another, as the Patriots drove 75 yards of their own in 10 plays to a Julian Edelman 5-yard jet sweep touchdown and a 10-7 score on the first play of the second quarter.

The home squad tacked on to its lead in the second quarter. Mohamed Sanu’s 24-yard punt return gave New England possession near midfield before driving 44 yards to a 21-yard Folk field goal and a 13-7 lead just before the two-minute warning of the first half.

Tennessee put together another run-heavy 75-yard drive – jumpstarted by a 29-yard Henry rush – on the way to a Henry 1-yard touchdown and the 14-13 lead at halftime.

Neither team was able to muster up much offense or any points in a scoreless second half until Logan Ryan’s 9-yard pick-six touchdown with less than 10 seconds to play.

That’s essentially how the game, the New England season and possibly much more than that ended.

Before turning the page to what will be a critical New England offense, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the loss to ol’ friend Mike Vrabel’s Titans.

Thumbs up

Julian Edelman – The numbers weren’t huge and his biggest plays came on the ground, but the slot receiver was the only Patriot to find the end zone early against Tennessee. Edelman glided in for the 5-yard score on a motion jet sweep in the second quarter. He also caught three passes (on five targets) for 30 yards on another limited night for the Patriots passing attack, though he did have a costly drop on a would-be first down in the fourth quarter.
James White – The passing back was arguably the Patriots most efficient offensive player. He ran it just once but picked up 14 yards. He caught all five passes thrown his way for a total of 62 yards. That included a 29-yard gain on a screen on New England’s opening drive to a field goal as well as a 20-yard catch-and-run to try to jumpstart the Patriots’ final drive of the night.
Duron Harmon – Though it didn’t turn into points, Harmon’s fourth-quarter interception was the kind of play the Patriots were looking for all night against Ryan Tannehill. Harmon covered a lot of ground across the field to pick of the spot throw intended for Corey Davis.

Thumbs down

Run Defense – The Patriots run defense has had its issues at various points all season, but nothing was horrifically bad as its work against Henry and the Titans. The NFL’s rushing leader and his dominant offensive line picked up yards in chunks early on, Henry rushing seven times for 49 yards on their opening drive. A week after gaining 211 yards in the season finale against the Texans, Henry had 14 carries for 106 yards and a score by halftime in New England. The Patriots defense simply got pushed around most of the night as Henry ran for 182 yards on his 34 rushes to lead the Titans to stunning upset victory.
Elandon Roberts – Roberts had a big touchdown catch in the season finale and had been blocking better as well. But the linebacker’s production was less than spectacular in his fill-in fullback role against Tennessee. He was blown up on a block on a Sony Michel loss and then was stuffed himself on a third-and-1 rushing attempt in the second quarter. He then fell down on a block attempt on third-and-goal on a Titans’ goal line stand. Roberts also missed some early tackles and was obviously part of the Patriots’ struggling run defense.
Too many costly mistakes – Continuing a trend from the late part of the regular season, New England made too many small mistakes that added up against Tennessee. Shaq Mason was called for being downfield on a big third-down gain to Ben Watson. Jake Bailey had an ugly 29-yard punt and a couple inefficient touchbacks. Jonathan Jones had an obvious, ugly pass interference call. For a team playing with such a small margin for error, the seemingly minor missteps continued to be too frequent.
N’Keal Harry/Mohamed Sanu/Phillip Dorsett – New England’s first-round rookie, trade addition and holdover veteran all continued to be inefficient weapons in the passing game, combining for just four catches on 15 total targets. Harry had a couple drops. Dorsett couldn’t provide a spark when turned to in the second half. The guys who needed to step up to help a struggling passing attack simply didn’t.
Tom Brady – In what could be his final game in Gillette Stadium and a Patriots uniform as he heads toward free agency, Brady was not able to muster up another postseason win. Brady finished completing just 20 of 37 passes for 209 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for a 59.4 passer rating.