The Patriots took another step toward clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC on Sunday afternoon with a 33-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. The win gives New England six consecutive years with at least 12 regular-season victories, but concern remained following the sloppy blowout after three starters left the game due to injury.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee) and Patrick Chung (hip) all failed to return to action after suffering various ailments over the course of the win. Those injuries cast a shadow over what was a fairly routine victory for the Patriots (12-2) over the lowly Titans (3-9). Tom Brady played turnover-free football while throwing for 267 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Rob Gronkowski caught his team-high 11th touchdown of the season in the first quarter, while teammate James White added a nifty 30-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter to help the hosts build an early 24-3 lead.
From there, the Titans would get no closer than 11 points, as they struggled to sustain scoring drives following a second-quarter knee injury to starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Three things we learned:
1. A new face emerges in
With LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis on injured reserve, the expectation was that the Patriots would turn to Brandon Bolden and James White to carry a heavier load in the running game. However, Bill Belichick surprised everyone by giving newly signed Joey Iosefa the lion’s share of carries in the backfield. The former practice squad player used his imposing 6-foot, 245-pound frame with authority all day, running for a team-high 51 yards on 14 carries. The new power runner should give the Patriots another appealing option in short-yardage situations down the stretch.
2. Jamie Collins is back to his versatile self
In his third game back following a mystery illness that sidelined him for more than a month, the 26-year-old Collins did a little bit of everything against the Titans. The linebacker finished with a team-high eight tackles, a sack and a 51-yard interception return that helped seal the game for the Patriots in the fourth quarter. The performance highlighted a stellar effort by New England’s front-seven, which tallied five sacks on the afternoon, including a forced fumble by Chandler Jones that led to a touchdown for Akiem Hicks after recovering the loose ball.
3. No. 1 seed is within reach
By taking care of business on Sunday, the Patriots maintained pole position as the top seed in the AFC. New England remains in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 spot with a 12-2 record and could potentially clinch home-field advantage for the playoffs as soon as next week, depending on the result of the Broncos-Bengals showdown. In the meantime, the Patriots will face a tough road trip against a streaking New York Jets. A win in the Meadowlands could give the team some valuable extra time to rest their injuries heading into Week 17 and a likely first-round bye in the postseason.