FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Tennessee Titans ended an era for the New England Patriots during the 2019 season, when they knocked them out of the playoffs in Tom Brady's final game with the franchise.
The Patriots hope Sunday's 36-13 victory over Tennessee will be part of the blueprint to get them back to the postseason without Brady behind center.
Rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw a pair of touchdown passes to Kendrick Bourne, a dynamite defense continued its dominance by forcing four turnovers, and the Patriots rolled past the undermanned Titans to extend their winning streak to six games.
"You're not going to win a Super Bowl now, you're going to win it in February; we've got to keep that same mindset," defensive lineman Davon Godchaux said of the victory, which snapped a two-game losing streak to the Titans.
New England (8-4), which hadn't beaten Tennessee since former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel took over as head coach in Nashville in 2018, improved to 6-1 against AFC opponents this season.
Jones was 23-of-32 passing for 310 yards, and Bourne had five catches for 61 yards. Jones took multiple deep shots, connecting with Bourne on a 41-yard touchdown and Jakobi Meyers for 38 yards to set up a field goal.
The Titans (8-4) stayed close early, but they couldn't survive a bevy of errors that included three fumbles by their running backs and an interception by Ryan Tannehill, who was 11-of-21 for 93 yards and a touchdown. With his team trailing 26-13 in the fourth quarter, Tannehill's interception on fourth-and-goal was thrown into the end zone, which not only cost the Titans a scoring chance but rescued New England from having to take over on its own 2-yard line.
"You kill the momentum," said Tannehill, who had season lows in completions and passing yards. "We're marching the ball, marching the ball. I felt like every time we touched it, we were doing good things. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple times by putting it on the ground."
One week earlier, the Titans committed five turnovers — including a career-high four interceptions by Tannehill — in a home loss to the Houston Texans, who had dropped eight straight games.
Sunday's game was Tennessee's fourth in a row without workhorse running back Derrick Henry, the reigning NFL offensive player of the year who is out indefinitely after foot surgery. The Titans were also missing receivers A.J. Brown (chest injury) and Julio Jones (hamstring), offensive guard Nate Davis (concussion), linebackers Rashaan Evans (ankle) and David Long (hamstring), running back Jeremy McNichols (concussion) and defensive lineman Teair Tart (ankle).
Dontrell Hilliard and D'Onta Foreman became the first Tennessee backs other than Henry to rush for 100 yards since 2018, but the ground attack's results were mixed. Hilliard carried 12 times for a career-high 131 yards and a 68-yard touchdown, but he also had a fumble in the second quarter that set up a field goal by the Patriots. Foreman rushed 19 times for 109 yards, and in the third quarter he broke free for a 34-yard run, but the play ended in a turnover after he was stripped from behind by J.C. Jackson.
The Patriots took an early lead after a poor start by the Titans that included a penalty on their kickoff return, a 1-yard run loss on their first play from scrimmage and giving up a sack on third down. Tennessee then had to punt twice after being penalized for an illegal shift.
It all added up to a short field for the Patriots, who started on the Titans' 37-yard line. New England needed only nine plays to score the game's first points on a 4-yard pass from Jones to Bourne.
The Titans bounced back on their second series, eating up more than eight minutes on a 14-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 1-yard reception by Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. Randy Bullock missed the PAT, but the touchdown ended a streak of 77 consecutive points the Patriots had scored against opponents.
Tennessee was trailing 13-6 in the second quarter but driving downfield when Godchaux stripped Hilliard, causing the ball to roll free. Kyle Dugger fell on it, giving the Patriots another short field and leading to Nick Folk connecting on his third field goal of the half to make it 16-6.
Tennessee took over with 58 seconds left before the break and opted not to take a knee. It proved worthwhile three plays later when Hilliard found a gap in the middle of the field, juked safety Devin McCourty and sprinted for a 68-yard touchdown. It was the longest score allowed this season by New England.
"We did some good things," Vrabel said. "We did some, obviously, things that are going to get you beat."
The Titans seemed like the dominant team in the conference and were cruising toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC before being upset by the Texans. They remain in control of their bid to repeat as AFC South Division champions, but the loss at New England dropped them to third in the conference behind New England (8-4) and Baltimore (7-3), which faced the Cleveland Browns in Sunday's late game.
"Of course, everybody's thinking we're not that team any more," Tennessee defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said. "But I have a lot of faith in my guys, I have a lot of faith in this team. Coming off this bye week, we're going to come back rolling."
The Titans have an open date before closing their schedule against Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Miami and Houston.
"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. A lot of things to improve."