FOXBOROUGH — When informed his team rushed for nearly 300 yards Sunday, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel shrugged.
“Give our guys credit,” he said. “This game’s about points, not stats.”
Even without star running back Derrick Henry, the Titans rushed for a season-high 270 yards against the Patriots. But the production didn’t translate to the scoreboard. Tennessee turned over the ball four times, including three fumbles, squashing any momentum built by the run game.
“I feel like we played pretty well the majority of the game,” safety Kevin Byard said after the 36-13 loss. “We were moving the ball, but key turnovers in spots, the defense wasn’t able to get off the field in some spots — I still have to watch the film and stuff like that — but I think the game was a lot tighter for the majority of the game than what the score indicated.”
Byard is correct. Through three quarters, the Titans hung around and kept the game within one possession. Their mistakes in all phases, however, proved too difficult to overcome.
In the second quarter, with a chance to pull within 1 point, kicker Randy Bullock knocked the ball into the right upright, the same post he hit on a missed extra-point attempt the previous drive.
Later in the second, with less than two minutes remaining in the half and a chance to tie the score at 13, running back Dontrell Hilliard fumbled the ball at New England’s 35-yard line.
Then, on Tennessee’s opening drive in the third quarter, running back D’Onta Foreman broke free for a 30-yard gain into New England territory — only to have cornerback J.C. Jackson punch out the ball and force a fumble.
The nail in the coffin came at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Trailing by 13, the Titans marched 73 yards but were stopped short at New England’s 2-yard line. On fourth and goal, safety Devin McCourty tipped Ryan Tannehill’s pass, which was intercepted by Jackson.
“Put all those together and it puts yourself in a difficult situation,” Tannehill said. “We had opportunities. We did a lot of really good things.”
The Titans also were whistled for five penalties for a loss for 50 yards. That total doesn’t include the 34 yards the Patriots gained from forcing the Titans to punt the ball a second time after an illegal motion penalty in the first quarter.
“You don’t have to look too hard on why we lost,” Vrabel said.
That was the team’s main takeaway: Their wounds were obvious and self-inflicted.
“I feel like we left a lot on the field today,” Hilliard said. “Even though the opponent we played is a good opponent, a lot of the damage was done ourselves.”
Hilliard said the team will use the loss as motivation.
“Look at the L as a lesson,” he said.
The Titans head into their bye week at 8-4. They still hold a strong command over a playoff berth as the AFC South’s division leader, but no longer are the conference’s No. 1 seed.
The Patriots, Ravens, and Bills all join the Titans as contenders for the AFC’s top spot and the lone first-round bye.
“We’ve dropped two in a row,” said tackle Taylor Lewan. “That’s a huge bummer on our record and how we lost that 1 seed.”
Players still expressed confidence in the group’s ability to finish the season strong, and they also preached the importance of health. On Sunday, Tennessee played without starting wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, starting linebackers Rashaan Evans and David Long, and Henry (foot surgery), who is done for the regular season.
Vrabel noted the team’s bye week seems to be coming at the right time.
“We’ve got to get healthy, mentally and physically,” Vrabel said. “And get back to playing football how we know how to play it, taking care of the football, playing complementary, and knowing the details.”