Patriots proving what-ifs are true and other remaining thoughts from Titans Blowout – CBS Boston

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – You hear it all the time in sports – if only it had not been for this, things would be different. It is often a loser’s lament.

That was basically the story around the 2021 Patriots through six weeks. If only Damien Harris did not fumble against Miami. If only Nick Folks field goal vs. Tampa went six inches to the right. If only they had gone after it on the fourth down against Dallas or defended themselves better on the third and 25, or if Mac did not throw the six. If only Trent Brown were healthy. If just this, this or that thing, the Patriots could be 5-1.

There was some the truth of that mindset, of course, but still, as we all know, you are what your record says you are. And reality showed that the Patriots fumbled, the defense collapsed, the execution and the play call was little of. Then they became 2-4.

What has happened since has made them the rare case where a team has actually proven that the alternative-reality what-if scenarios have been prophetic. They have won six games in a row, turned their season around, become virtual locks to get into the playoffs and have a legitimate chance of becoming the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

And while the reasons for that winning streak are many, it’s sometimes really as simple as playing when the other team does not.

To know: The Titans screwed up early and committed two penalties on a punt after going three-and-out to start the game. Instead of the Patriots starting on their own 31-yard line, the Patriots started on the Titans’ 37-yard line after the rebound and return. It is 32 yards field position for the better performing team.

Then, on a third-and-10, LaBrandian Boldtomlinson made a play. He remained in bounds, tipping up the left sideline to find his way to the sticks for a new set of downs.

Brandon Bolden picks up a first try. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Good design and good blocking? Of course. But the reason the chains moved was that the Ball made a play.

Then Kendrick Bourne climbed up and over Kevin Byard to the right in the rainbow from Mac Jones, on a bouncy ball that he really did not have a wealth of business to catch until he knocked on his toe and fell off the field.

Bourne made a play. The ball made a play. The Patriots led 7-0.

Compare that to a game that was supposed to be made, but which was nonetheless missed by Ryan Tannehill midway through the second quarter. When Chester Rogers toasted for Myles Bryant, it looked like the Titans were ready to take the lead. But Tannehill decided to throw his pass to Skipjack’s.

Ryan Tannehill casts an incompletion. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Felt like a big one. That it was followed by Randy Bullock’s second doink in nine minutes added to the theme.

Of course, one could say that this was nitpicky. Jones, after all, missed an equally open Hunter Henry in a similar way. Yes, of course, games are determined by more than a small handful of games.

But during the 60 minutes, from early playmaking to the forced fumbles to the underrated fumble recoveries all the way down to the kicker, the Patriots simply performed far better than their opponents on Sunday. Therefore, the skewed end result was not accidental.

Let’s find some remaining thoughts from that 36-13 victory.

-We always do the Mac Jones dance. He actually had his fair share of not-so-nice throws in this one, but luck was on his side and he avoided all ugly choices. In fact, he set a new career high in passing yards with 310, while posting his second-best single-game passing rating with a 123.2.

The bad ones were obvious – it slipped screen pass, Henry miss, near-interception – and does not require deep analysis. So I want to focus on a throw I really liked: First-and-10 on the Tennessee 37-yard line, early in the second quarter. Nothing dazzling, just an insecure throw over a linebacker, straight to Jonnu Smith, with a win of 16:

Mac Jones to Jonnu Smith (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

It really was a simple throw. For me, it was the confidence and comfort of the screen that stood out, something that has clearly grown as the year has gone by. Considering he started his career taking around 6,000 hits every Sunday, his ability to handle it and get to this place is mightily impressive.

– People love to say that you can no longer beat anyone, that the NFL lost all physicality, that it is basically flag football, etc., etc., etc. The Patriots defense occasionally offers a solid counter-argument.

I give you: Kyle Dugger on Cody Hollister:

Kyle Dugger hits Cody Hollister. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Pain.

Next, I give you: Adrian Phillips at Dontrell Hilliard.

Adrian Phillips hits Dontrell Hilliard. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Pain.

Of course, the other being wiped out by a new era of roughing, the passing penalty, proves some of the complainants’ point. But … the point here is that the Patriots can thump.

-Stephen Gostkowski becoming a random local guy is a pretty big development.

He’s halfway to becoming that Casey Affleck character from SNL.

– I have to be honest: I did not know that Janoris Jenkins had changed his name to Jackrabbit. I follow the NFL, but sometimes a story slips past you. I suppose it is appropriate, given the name itself.

-Hunter Henry has seven touchdown catches this year. Kendrick Bourne now has five. Nelson Agholor has three.

Last year, throughout the season, the team leader in touchdown receptions hadโ€ฆ three. Rex Burkhead. Three touchdowns. (In 10 games played no less.)

Quarterback play included, of course. But the fact that the three leaders this year are all new is no coincidence.

-It is well.

Admittedly, he was not really “in coverage” at Sunday’s election. But at this point, if you deny the fact that Jackson has some sort of magnetic magic formula on football, then you’re spitting in the wind, partner.

-If you think Matthew Judon gets excited on the court, you should see how excited he gets when asked about his jacket. Fast forward this video to the 10-minute mark:

The guy likes his jacket. Must respect that.

– The game was more or less over when this happened, so I did not notice it until the repetition. But Trent Brown, who jumped around like a pinball on Damien Harris’ touchdown run, looked like fun. At least for him.

-We have recently closed for some great photos, so let’s keep the trend alive. The Ravens beat the Browns in one of the most exciting boring football games ever played Sunday night, keeping Baltimore in first place in the AFC. I do not think it matters, for two reasons:

It’s the end of week 12.
2. No one in the AFC is that good.

The second point is the bigger one. That’s why the Patriots have an equal chance of making it to the Super Bowl as of winning zero playoff games. The top of the AFC, as it is, seems to be filled with good but flawed teams.

They all have a shameful loss or two. New England lost at home to Miami and New Orleans. Baltimore was completely blown out at home by the Bengals and lost on the way to Miami. The Titans have lost to the Jets and Texans (!!!). The Bills have lost to the Jaguars (!!) and the Steelers. The Chiefs – who have lost to the Ravens, Chagers, Bills and Titans – do not have the embarrassment.

They have all had moments that make you doubt their championship candidacy, moments that make you channel your inner Michael Bluth and sayโ€ฆ them?

But one of them has to make it.

At this point, you still have to be optimistic to believe that the first round farewell is in play for the Patriots, mostly because of the difficulty level in their next three games. With a Colts sandwich wrapped in a Buffalo Bills bun – and with one of those buns being toasted on a Monday night in Buffalo where fans are going to create an absolutely psychotic atmosphere – it’s a tough stretch for the Patriots . There are some positive things built in, like the extra day this week to be ready for Monday night, and the goodbye that follows before their Saturday night match in Indy, which then gives them an extra day to prepare for their home date with Buffalo. They are all games that can be wonโ€ฆ but also, they are all games that can be lost.

We’ll see how the Patriots get out of it. Even if they go 1-2, they will still be in line to go 11-6 if they can take care of business against the mighty Jags and Dolphins. And of course, they now have the opportunity to finish even better than that.

If you were talking loudly about any of this at the end of October, you would have been laughed out of the room. Deservedly. This was unlikely.

But the Patriots stood true to their word and their belief that they were not a 2-4 team. And here they are. The next six weeks will be fascinating.

You can send an email to Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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