By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If not for one drive where everything seemed to click, the Patriots offense would’ve narrowly avoided a shutout in Nashville. Nothing went well overall for the Pats in a 34-10 drubbing against the Titans, and it was particularly ugly for Tom Brady and the offense.
“Just a bad day for all of us,” Brady summarized after the game. “We have to learn from it.”
Hopefully, the offense can learn from how it executed on the lone drive that they were able to finish off with a touchdown. Because so much of it represented what the Brady-led offense does consistently when the group is at its best.
Julian Edelman’s 29-yard catch sparked the much-needed touchdown drive, and it started with Brady. It takes some nifty sleight-of-hand to fool a talented defense with a play-fake to converted receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Brady did just that, freezing linebacker Wesley Woodyard and drawing both Rashaan Evans and Kevin Byard in to the pile. This freed up Edelman over the middle for Brady, who fired the ball to him cleanly for the chunk play.
The Patriots followed that up with two straight runs by Sony Michel, which went for 12 yards to move the chains. Michel showed his usual burst on both runs, picking up steam for seven yards on the first one and barely missing a huge gain as he got tripped up. On the second run, he patiently followed his blocks then lowered his shoulder into Malcolm Butler, driving the ex-Patriots cornerback over the line to gain.
Josh Gordon made a 14-yard catch on the next play. It was the essence of Brady when he’s on his A-game. Quick, decisive, accurate. Another effective play-action fake leaves Gordon one-on-one against cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, Joe Thuney pull-blocks to the strong side, Michel seals it off with a block of his own, and Brady delivers a quick strike right into Gordon’s hands.
When the Patriots are rolling, this kind of play is routine.
After that, things went haywire for a moment. It was a horrible day overall, so even their one successful drive included a head-scratcher. Josh McDaniels decides to try the usually-unstoppable Brady sneak on third-and-2. Brady picks up just half a yard, as backup lineman Ted Karras gets zero push after snapping the ball.
The worst part, though? the Titans looked quite prepared for the sneak. That’s about as rare as it gets for a Patriots opponent.
But the next play was where the Patriots got back in order. Needing a money play on fourth down, Brady looked to his most reliable weapon so far this season in James White. More play action, and it worked perfectly as a fake jet sweep to Patterson draws the entire defense to the left. By the time Brady dumps it to White to the right side, it’s too late for any Titans defender to stop him before the line. This play very nearly resulted in a touchdown on its own.
It may strike you as a concern that the Patriots had to rely on more trickery in order to get into the end zone, but they still executed James Develin’s fullback dive perfectly. They sold the pitch to Michel well enough to open up the middle for Develin, who simply took the handoff and plopped into pay dirt. It was his first rushing touchdown since 2013 and first carry since 2014.
Maybe it would be more comforting for this offense if Brady passed for the score, or if Michel punched it in on the previous snap. But a touchdown is a touchdown. It was the only real glimpse of the typical Patriots offense that we saw all afternoon.
The Titans shut them out for the final 27:49 of the game after that.
It’s become strangely puzzling how the Patriots just can’t seem to execute on the road, especially offensively. But their issues on offense have been percolating all season. Even when they’ve scored, Brady and the offense haven’t done it with drive-to-drive consistency. They haven’t consistently spread the ball around. Brady isn’t consistently seeing open receivers. The protection isn’t consistently there. And the receivers aren’t consistently holding on to the ball or running the right routes.
But this one drive against the Titans had all of that. Brady was efficient (4-for-4 for 59 yards, a 118.8 rating), Michel ran with authority, and they came up with big plays in the biggest spots.
Just one drive, though. The rest wasn’t remotely as crisp as these 10 plays. But at least it showed what the Patriots are capable of doing when everything’s going well.
Above all, the execution was there on almost every play. Can’t say the same about the rest of the game.
“I thought we had a good game plan, but when push came to shove we didn’t execute it,” said center David Andrews. “When you [don’t execute] against a good football team, these are the results.”
The final results in Tennessee? Almost entirely bad. The Patriots will need to dig deep to find positives from the game to build upon. Their only touchdown drive was perhaps the only thing, but it’s at least something.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.