We’ve said it for weeks now — this team is just different. Tonight, they showed it. The Tennessee Titans knocked off the New England Patriots tonight, perhaps ending their dynasty in the process.
An opening statement
After seeing the Patriots add three on their first drive, the Tennessee offense came out hot on their first possession. It was all Derrick Henry and the offensive line early on. Henry, the league’s rushing champ, took seven carries for 49 yards on the march down the field, which ended with Ryan Tannehill hitting Anthony Firkser on a strike for the score.
Tannehill Firkser— PFF (@PFF) January 5, 2020
Tennessee pulls ahead!
It was a statement drive for the Titans, who clearly looked like the more physical team out of the gates.
But the defense was dealt a big blow on the next drive. Linebacker Jayon Brown went down for the second time in the quarter with a shoulder injury. This time, he was done for the day.
The Patriots were already on the move. Big runs from James White and Sony Michel brought them into the redzone. Josh McDaniels dialed up a jet sweep to Julian Edelman for the easy four yard score.
So after a quarter of play, both sides had traded punches, with the Patriots holding a 10-7 advantage.
The Titans couldn’t back up what they did on the first drive. Arthur Smith’s unit came up empty on the next two drives, going three and out.
Meanwhile, Brady was busy converting on third downs, moving the Patriots down the field. New England’s offensive line came to life quickly, winning the edge and sending Michel for big chunks. McDaniels kept the screen game going strong, dialing up Rex Burkhead to get down to the goal line.
But that’s as far as they got. Rashaan Evans and Jeffery Simmons stuffed Michel, then Burkhead, then Michel again. That stand forced a field goal, which kept Tennessee within one score, down 13-7.
Remember that sequence for later.
Henry finishes the half strong
After a brief break, the Derrick Henry show resumed to end the half. With a little over two minutes before the break, Smith went back to his warhorse. Henry went over 100 yards on the day on the drive, powering Tennessee ten yards at a time. He took a screen to the one, then punched it in on the next play. Greg Joseph was good on the extra point, bringing the Tennessee lead to 14-13.
But Brady still had 35 seconds to make something happen. Instead, he nearly delivered a pick six. A tipped pass landed right in Logan Ryan’s hands — only to see him drop it. The Titans did get the stop though, and the ball back after half.
Again — remember that play for later.
The third quarter featured a whole lot of defense and a whole lot of punting. Neither side was able to sustain any sort of a drive with big defensive plays being made on both sides. For the Titans, it was Rashaan Evans and Adoree’ Jackson coming up big on third downs, sending Brady back to the bench on the money downs.
Tennessee took their 14-13 lead into the fourth quarter.
Tannehill blinks, but the Titans recover
For most of this game, the passing attack wasn’t needed. Ryan Tannehill had 53 yards passing entering the final quarter of play. And on the first snap of the fourth quarter, disaster struck.
Tannehill was pressured by two free rushers and floated one to a covered up Corey Davis. The ball was picked off easily, breathing life into Gillette Stadium. On a drive where you could have taken control of the game, the Titans opened the door a little wider for Tom Brady.
Brady went to work, quickly moving past midfield with a couple of short passes. But Tennessee got pressure on third and three, forcing an off-target pass from Brady. Once again, New England was forced to punt.
Finally, the offense strung together a couple of first downs. Derrick Henry went full battering-ram mode, powering through defenders to move the chains. Ryan Tannehill converted another on a read-option keeper.
A mistake put everything on hold, however. Tannehill fumbled a snap, but recovered. The only problem was that it happened on a key third and three. It would have been a 54 yard try for Joseph, but Vrabel opted to punt — after a series of delay of game calls that ran the clock under five minutes.
Titans find a way
Brady would get the ball at his own nine with a chance to do what he’s done his entire career. He needed about 60 yards for a comfortable attempt for Nick Folk. He started with a dump to James White to move out to the 30.
A drop by Edelman set up a huge third and six play, however. Brady fired incomplete to Dorsett, forcing yet another punt.
Henry and the Titans got the ball back with three minutes to play. An illegal formation flag made things tougher, setting up second and long. Henry got them back to third and eight, then Tannehill converted to Firkser.
With 2:08 to play, Tennessee had a fresh set of downs. Derrick Henry ripped off another first down on the very next snap.
The Titans bled the clock over the next three plays, punting with 25 seconds remaining. Making things tougher? Brett Kern pinned them on their own one.
Brady was picked off on the next play — by Logan Ryan — who housed it. It was sweet redemption for Ryan, who dropped the exact same opportunity earlier in the game.
Vrabel chose to try go for two to put the game out of reach by going for two, but fell short. However, the Patriots attempt at a lateral-filled kick return was shut down.
Final score: Tennessee 20, New England 13. Derrick Henry finished with 34 carries for 182 yards and one score.
The Titans will advance to play the Ravens next week in Baltimore.