Our grades for the Titans (8-4), who head into their bye week:
For the first time without Derrick Henry this season, the Titans got their running game going. Running backs Dontrell Hilliard (12 carries, 131 yards) and D’Onta Foreman (19 carries, 109 yards) and quarterback Ryan Tannehill (five carries, 24 yards) led Tennessee to a season-high 270 yards.
But four turnovers doomed Tennessee: three from the backfield (one apiece for Hilliard, Foreman and fullback Khari Blasingame) and Tannehill (11-of-21, 93 yards, TD, INT, 60.2 passer rating), who threw an interception at the goal line. It marked the second straight game that the Titans had at least four turnovers.
The Titans tied a season-low with 13 points.
NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE: Patriots knock Titans out of No. 1 in AFC; Steelers falling behind in AFC North
The defense has needed to carry the load with a hurting Tennessee offense that took another blow in A.J. Brown’s placement on injured reserve. But the Patriots scored 36 points, the second-most the Titans have allowed in a game this season.
While Tennessee held New England to 2-for-5 in the red zone (40%), poor tackling was an issue – Kendrick Bourne’s 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter was a lasting image – and the Titans’ front four was a nonfactor in the passing game, as Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (23-of-32, 310 yards, 2 TDs, 123.2 passer rating) was largely unfazed in the pocket. The Titans had just two sacks, one of which came from Kevin Byard on a safety blitz.
For the second straight week, Tennessee didn’t have a takeaway.
The Titans took penalties of 10 and 15 yards on the opening kickoffs of the first and third quarter, respectively. And placekicker Randy Bullock left four points on the board in the second quarter – he missed an extra point and a 44-yard field goal.
The Patriots also scored a touchdown on their opening drive thanks to a Titans penalty. An illegal motion penalty from defensive back Chris Jones rolled back a strong punt by Brett Kern that flipped the field, forcing a re-do that didn’t travel as far. The Patriots returned it to the 37 and used the short field to score a touchdown.
Mike Vrabel and his coaching staff have had an increasingly tougher job with mounting injuries to key players.
While hindsight is 20-20, the Titans’ decision to throw on fourth-and-goal at the Patriots’ 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter – instead of running the ball or sneaking it in with Tannehill – was a head scratcher. Tannehill’s pass was tipped by safety Devin McCourty and intercepted by J.C. Jackson in the end zone on the play.
In the second quarter, Vrabel made the correct decision to challenge the ruling that receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was short of the goal line. The play was reversed, and Tennessee cut New England’s lead to 7-6.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee Titans grades: How many D's for loss to New England Patriots?