FOXBOROUGH — Akiem Hicks had one thought as the craziest, most entertaining, and definitely funniest play of New England’s 33-16 win over Tennessee was unfolding Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“Get that ball!’’ the defensive lineman said with a big, excited laugh as he described his second-quarter fumble recovery for a touchdown. “I lost [a loose ball] in Denver and [defensive coordinator] Matty [Patricia] gave me a talking to about losing those.’’
The 6-foot-5-inch, 324-pounder actually lost this one, too, but re-recovered it before snuggling it securely until the whistle blew.
The TD set off a wild celebration in the stands and on the sideline. It was a celebration that had many of Hicks’s teammates — particularly his brethren on the defensive line — in stitches.
“Oh man, we were dying laughing,’’ said Alan Branch. “The funny thing is, when a big guy gets a touchdown, no matter what, it’s gonna be funny because it doesn’t look normal and it ain’t regular.’’
It came on third and 9 at the Tennessee 26. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota dropped back to pass and — cue the “Benny Hill” theme music from there.
Defensive Chandler Jones manhandled tackle Taylor Lewan and was on Mariota in a flash. He knocked the ball loose for the strip sack. It started rolling toward the end zone with Hicks in hot pursuit. The big man corralled it, temporarily bobbled it when Mariota tried to tackle him, but grabbed it again to get the 6 points.
“I beat [Lewan] with a bull rush,’’ said Jones. “I actually didn’t see the quarterback. I was just reaching and happened to tip the ball. It was a great play for us and we capitalized off it.’’
Hicks said the play almost had a surreal feel to it as he was crashing his way toward the end zone.
“Chandler had that great play and I was just trying to finish it for us,’’ said Hicks, who was acquired in Week 3 in a trade with the Saints for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. “You’re watching that ball spin around and you’re a bigger guy like, ‘OK, I’ve got to make sure I’m with it.’ And then you jump on it and grab it. You never know where the ball is going to spin to.’’
Fortunately for Hicks, it spun the right way for him — twice.
“The ball was just bumbling around and if you saw I layed on it for a quick second after that to make sure [the officials] threw up the touchdown signal,’’ said Hicks.
That’s when the cheers — and the laughs — erupted.
“It was so crazy, I didn’t know what was going on,’’ said defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard with a laugh. “Any time a D lineman gets a touchdown it’s an incredible celly. I was just happy for him.’’
Hicks said he was happy to provide the points. And as for the laughs his teammates got out if it? He was happy to provide those, too.
“I’m sure somebody’s gonna get ahold of [the tape] and say, ‘rumbling, bumbling, stumbling,’ I know that’s coming,’’ he said. “I’m comfortable with that, I’ve been a big guy all my life.’’
It was the first defensive TD of the season for the Patriots and their first on a fumble recovery in the end zone since Jones turned the trick against the Ravens nearly two years ago to the day — Dec. 22, 2013.
The play brought back some happy memories for Jones, who recorded a pair of sacks and now has a career-high 12.5.
“It was a bit of déjà vu because my first game [as a rookie against Tennessee], I had a sack-fumble and [Dont’a] Hightower picked it up for a touchdown. And in this game, I had a sack-fumble and Akiem picked it up for a touchdown, so it was déjà vu and it was coincidental that it happened to be against the Titans.’’
The signature play of the victory highlighted what was another strong performance by the pass rushers — in addition to Jones’s two sacks, Hicks, Sheard, and Jamie Collins had one each.
The Patriots have recorded sacks in every game this season — a feat never accomplished in a full season under coach Bill Belichick.
Hicks, who said his last touchdown came in college when he “took an interception to the house,’’ believes the credit for New England’s renewed pass rush needs to be spread around — not just to the guys who actually bring down the opposing signal-callers.
“[Chandler] is a great outside rusher. Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard. Even the interior guys are bringing pressure,’’ he said. “[Malcom] Brown, Branch, Sealver [Siliga] as a unit. Those things don’t happen unless you have great secondary players. Logan [Ryan] covering all day. Malcolm Butler covering all day. Jamie, Hightower. It’s a great team.’’
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimcbride.