Report Card: Patriots and Titans

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made the plays in the first and fourth quarters to defeat the Titans.

Quarterback Tom Brady completed 10-of-16 first quarter throws for 152 yards, but was just 11-of-25 for 49 yards in the final three quarters as he was unable to find many open targets against Tennessee's coverage. The Titans barely blitzed in the game and did not sack Brady, who benefited early from tremendous pass protection, especially early when he had all day to find rookie wide receiver Bethel Johnson for a 41-yard touchdown.

The Patriots were a solid 7-of-16 (44 percent) on third down and Brady made a critical fourth-and-three throw to Troy Brown for 4 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. The Patriots threw several passes parallel to the line of scrimmage and the Titans stepped in for immediate tackles. Tight end Daniel Graham dropped a pass at the Titans 4-yard line and fumbled near midfield. Brady completed passes to 10 different receivers.

Without Brady's kneel downs, New England rushed 25 times for 100 yards or 4 yards per attempt against the league's No. 1 run defense. Antowain Smith ran hard and broke tackles. His 17-yard run from deep in his own end when it looked like he might be bottled up near the goal line was a play that changed field position and ultimately set up the Patriots game-winning field goal drive.

Smith also was able to pound his way into the end zone from inside the 5. He finished with 16 attempts for 69 yards, but left the game with a left ankle injury. Kevin Faulk ran five times for 22 yards including an 8-yard run on third-and-four off a direct snap to him. It was a solid day on the ground for New England. PASS DEFENSE: C
The Patriots secondary seemed confused at times and Tyrone Poole had a rough evening. Steve McNair was 18-for-26 for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but the interception was the only McNair pass the Patriots defensive backs were near all night. Many of his incompletions, until the game's final drive, were unforced. Poole allowed a game-high 30-yard reception to Tyrone Calico while Derrick Mason added a 29-yard grab and Drew Bennett a 24-yarder.

Mason worked over anyone who covered him with seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown on which he broke an Asante Samuel tackle at around the 5-yard line. New England did have three sacks, but one came when McNair was along the sideline and failed to throw the ball away and another came when he tripped over a teammate. The Patriots generated little in the way of pressure until the game's final drive when they forced an intentional grounding and a holding call.

Despite that Bennett dropped a desperation fourth-and-12 throw at the Patriots 10-yard line that ultimately cost the Titans the game. Perhaps New England's biggest play came when Willie McGinest blew up a double pass attempt and stopped Frank Wycheck for a 10-yard loss.

The Patriots weren't as stout up front as they have been for most of the season. Chris Brown, who carried seven times for 35 yards, ran twice from the 9-yard line for a touchdown and he and Eddie George ran three straight times for a first down to get the ball off their own 7-yard line in the fourth quarter. Overall, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. George finished with 16 runs for 48 yards and the Titans ran 26 times for 84 yards overall. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi had a strong game with nine tackles while Mike Vrabel added eight.

The Patriots won the game thanks to a series of special teams plays. First, Richard Seymour blocked a 31-yard Gary Andersen field goal try. Then New England was able to win a critical fourth quarter field position battle when Ken Walter's punt from the Titans 39 dropped softly at the 7-yard line. After a Patriots stop, Tennessee's Craig Hentrich hit a 32-yard punt that was returned 9 yards to the Titans 40 by Troy Brown.

That exchange helped the Patriots drive to the other big special teams play - Adam Vinatieri's game-winning 46-yard field goal that atoned for an earlier miss from 44 yards. There were no big plays in the return game, which was a credit to both teams' coverage units.

The defensive game plan seemed dedicated to stopping big plays which it did with moderate success; but it looked like it sucked the aggressiveness out of New England's defense. The coverage was soft and allowed Tennessee to convert 54 percent of its third downs. It wasn't until the final series when the Patriots turned up the heat on a hobbled Steve McNair with some timely blitzes that it generated any kind of pressure.

Offensively, New England jumped out of the gate with early success throwing the ball, but failed to adjust to Tennessee's coverages and kept trying to throw wide receiver screens to act as running plays even when the Titans were playing those well with sure tackles for short, if any, gains. Belichick made a critical call to go for a fourth-and-three from the Titans 33 to move a little closer for Adam Vinatieri to hit the game-winning field goal and he elected to punt on the drive before from the Titans 39 when going for it also was an option.

That set up terrific field position for the game-winning drive. The Patriots looked like the saw a weakness in the Titans field goal protection since they bunched up on one side of the ball and pushed through so Richard Seymour could block Gary Andersen's 31-yard field goal try.

Patriots Insider Top Stories