Patriots

Titans score in final minute for fourth straight win, 24-20 over Bengals

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Titans score in final minute for fourth straight win, 24-20 over Bengals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Marcus Mariota tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray with 36 seconds left as the Tennessee Titans rallied to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 24-20 Sunday for their fourth consecutive victory.

It's the longest winning streak for the Titans (6-3) since winning five straight in 2009, and it's their best start to a season since 2008 when the Titans last reached the playoffs as the AFC's No. 1 seed.

Murray ran for two touchdowns, and Mariota finished with 264 yards passing.

The Bengals (3-6) lost for the third time in four games despite sacking Mariota four times. They started with three defensive starters scratched and lost a fourth when linebacker Vontaze Burfict was ejected in the second quarter after pushing the arm of an official.

Cincinnati took its only lead at 20-17 on a 70-yard TD pass from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green with 5:03 left, but the Bengals couldn't stop the Titans, who drove 73 yards for the winning TD.

They had one last chance. On their final play, Dalton threw deep only to have Titans safety Kevin Byard knock the ball down.

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER BENGAL TOSSED

Last week, Green was ejected from a loss at Jacksonville for a fight with Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey that cost him $42,541 in fines. Against the Titans, Burfict was ejected with 5:12 left in the second quarter.

Burfict was flagged for a late hit on Murray, then two plays later referee Jeff Triplette announced Burfict had made contact with an official. Replay later showed Burfict shoving the left arm of down judge Jeff Bergman who immediately threw a flag. Burfict took his time leaving the field, talking with fans, raising both arms and finally jumping to high-five a fan before going into the locker room.

TURNOVERS

Dalton had a hard time holding onto the ball with two fumbles in the second quarter. On the first, Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo sacked and stripped him of the ball, which was recovered by Derrick Morgan. Then Dalton had a bad snap that Morgan again recovered. But Mariota gave the ball right back to Cincinnati when Darqueze Dennard intercepted a pass.

RECORD STREAK ENDS

Titans kicker Ryan Succop's NFL record streak of successful field goals finally came to an end at 56 straight after his first attempt. He missed wide right on a 48-yarder midway through the second quarter. Succop came into the game having easily topped the previous NFL mark of 46 consecutive field goals inside the 50 that had previously been set by Matt Bryant of Atlanta between 2013 and 2015. It was Succop's first miss from inside 50 yards since Sept. 21, 2014, in a loss at Cincinnati. The Titans kicker came into this game 21 of 23 on field goals. Succop connected from 44 yards for a 17-13 halftime lead.

INJURIES.

Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones left the field with 8:57 left in the third quarter, and the Bengals ruled him out with a concussion. ... Dennard also hurt a toe.

UP NEXT

Bengals: Visit Denver.

Titans: Visit Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

Brady knew it wasn't over, told Gronkowski to cool it on the celebration

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Brady knew it wasn't over, told Gronkowski to cool it on the celebration

Tom Brady had a feeling. He knew there was only less than a minute left in his team's game with the Steelers. But he also knew that was plenty of time for something crazy to go down. 

After completing a two-point conversion on a fade to Rob Gronkowski -- the piece de resistance of Gronkowski's monster day, most of which was spent being checked by second-year safety Sean Davis -- the big tight end celebrated and hammed it up for an on-the-field camera like he was in a late-90s rap video. 

Brady interrupted his teammate mid-dance. "Hey!" he shouted at Gronkowski. "It ain't over."

"Fifty-five seconds, that’s still a lot of time," Brady said after the game. "They hit the one big play, and before you know it they are knocking on our end zone’s door. [Roethlisberger] made a really great throw [to Jesse James], but they just couldn’t come up with it. Then the great tackle [by Malcolm Butler] on the [Darius Heyward-Bey] crossing route. They tried to fake spike it on third down, but our guys were aware and made a great play."

Brady's message to Gronkowski late was reminiscent of the end of Super Bowl LI, when it was at first somewhat unclear as to whether or not James White got into the end zone for the walk-off game-winner. At that point in time, Brady went from initially celebrating, to unsure White got in. He told his teammates to hold off on the partying until the play was reviewed -- kind of in the same way he told Gronkowski to chill out. 

We know how it worked out. And even if the stakes weren't quite as high, the finish in Pittsburgh was about as dramatic as it gets for a regular-season game. 

"That was great. It was a lot of fun," Brady said. "It was a great environment and a great team that we played that played really well. The weather conditions -- it kind of rained the whole game. It was just one of those days where you go back and forth, you play right to the end, and the ball bounces some weird ways. I’m glad it bounced our way today."

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Belichick highlights fourth-quarter kickoff as key in win over Steelers

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Belichick highlights fourth-quarter kickoff as key in win over Steelers

Leave it to Bill Belichick to shed light on the importance of the kicking game after a game like the one his team played on Sunday. 

Of all the memorable moments in New England's 27-24 win, the one Belichick brought up unprompted in his post-game press conference wasn't a Rob Gronkowski catch, or a Tom Brady throw, or a touchdown that was ruled to be an incompletion.

It was a kickoff. Specifically, the kickoff that occurred immediately before the final Steelers drive of the game. 

Belichick's point? That there were countless plays that mattered, involving an unspecified number of players. Team game.

"A lot of guys played well," Belichick said. "Tom played well. Rob played well, but we got a lot of great play from really everybody on the team. You can just go right down the line. Every play was a big play. 

"The kickoff after we scored was a big play. If that had been a touchback, I don’t know, they might have scored on that pass. It would have been maybe on the 1-yard line. Every play is a big play."

The pass Belichick referred to was the 69-yard catch-and-run that was completed to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 52 seconds left in the game. It moved the Steelers from the 21-yard line to the Patriots' 10 in less than 20 seconds. 

One play prior, Smith-Schuster returned a Stephen Gostkowski kick out of his own end zone for 22 yards before being tackled by Patriots special-teamer Nicholas Grigsby. It was Grigsby's second "teams" tackle of the game, and his third game under Belichick since being signed off of the Ravens practice squad last month.

The difference between Grigsby's tackle and a touchback in the box score was four yards so maybe Smith-Schuster's rumble down the sideline to the 10 wouldn't have resulted in a touchdown.

But you never know. And that's why, to Belichick, every play was big. Even in a game like that one, where hours of sports talk on television and radio will be devoted to a handful of moments that occurred in the last two minutes.

It's an approach that has helped shaped the style of the coach who watched his team win its ninth straight division title and 15th of the last 17. It all matters. 

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