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Patriots: 3 things we learned in a slamming of the Titans

Jabaal Sheard rips down Tennessee QB Zach Mettenberger Sunday at Gillette.Getty Images

The Patriots took another step toward clinchingthe No. 1 seed in the AFCon Sundayafternoon with a 33-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. The win givesNew 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 11thtouchdown 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 thingswe learned:

1.A new face emerges in
the backfield

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 newpower runner should give the Patriotsanotherappealing 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, asackand 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 fivesackson 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 businesson 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.

 
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