Bill Belichick’s specialty has long been the defensive side of the game, and it was on full display as the Pats forced four turnovers in the win.
Facing a Titans team missing 2020 Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry as well as their two main wide receivers — Julio Jones and A. J. Brown — New England ended the game with three forced fumbles along with a Ryan Tannehill interception.
The game though was tight going into halftime — a slight 16-13 New England lead — with the Patriots struggling to rein in Tennessee’s running game. Even without Henry, the Titans’ backs found plenty of holes in the New England defense. Belichick was asked postgame about the first half and gave an on-brand, terse answer about the defense.
“They did a better job of coaching it than we did. We have to coach and play better,” Belichick said.
The Pats defense turned it around after the break though, as they shut out the Titans in the second half and got the ball back repeatably for rookie quarterback Mac Jones and the offense.
The Jones-led offense has been on a roll during the Patriots’ six-game win streak as his pass catchers have become more used to the offense — New England has outscored their opponents 211-63 during the winning-run.
The emergence of wide receiver Kendrick Bourne has become a story to watch as he and Jones are finding their stride. The QB threw for two touchdowns to Bourne in the win and that connection has become apparent to more than just Patriots fans.
“KB is like the energizer bunny, man,” Patriots center Andrews said about Bourne. “I think he’s like a Labrador. Golden Retriever-like. I’ve had those dogs before. They’re just always happy, you know? Even when you kind of correct them or get onto them, they’re just like, ‘Alright. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll get it done.’ KB’s been awesome.”
While the Pats’ trademark, steadfast defense has remained prominent during the streak, the evolution of rookie QB Jones has been the main reason for optimism around the team so far. Tom Brady’s heir-apparent has limited his mistakes as he continues to learn and lean on the team’s opportunistic defense.
“That was awesome. I think they played great, and they are always getting takeaways,” Jones said after the game. “It’s just a matter of time. Once that happens it changes the momentum of the game and they have done that all year.
“The goal is to not turn the ball over on offense and do what they did today and get the four takeaways. You can see how much they play together and celebrate, and it’s exciting. We must capitalize on that and make points for them and not turn the ball over as well.
“It’s kind of an ebb and flow type thing. They have done a great job and we have a great defense, and it’s a lot of fun to have those guys with us.”
With an 8-4 record, the Patriots are sitting at second place in the AFC behind the Baltimore Ravens who are 8-3.
New England has gone 7-1 since a Week 4 reunion with Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
and looks to be a different team since that narrow 19-17 loss in Foxborough.
Both the Patriots and Bucs are sitting on eight wins, and that has many fans and pundits wondering: is destiny at hand for a potential reunion at Super Bowl 56?
Only time will tell.