Patriots Report Card: Season ends with a Wild Card whimper
After a season that featured a largely-dominant Patriots defense, for the second consecutive week the team couldn't get a stop when it needed one. It happened on the game's final drive in the regular-season finale, which led to the Patriots playing on Wild Card Weekend.
Then it happened three times on Saturday: Drive No. 1, the final drive of the first half, and the game-winning-slash-clock-killing drive that left the Patriots with little time to attempt a comeback.
Though the Titans only scored 14 points offensively, the grades for the Patriots defense weren't pretty. Ditto for the offense. When the season ends the way theirs did, hard to have these marks turn out any other way.
Tom Brady wasn't the problem on Saturday night, but once again it seemed as though he and his receivers simply weren't on the same page. There were multiple throws where it was difficult to decipher whether or not it was an inaccurate toss or a misread by his receiver.
His first throw of the game was a misfire to N'Keal Harry on that type of play. A third-down throw in the fourth quarter to Phillip Dorsett — where Dorsett broke in and Brady's pass went outside — was someone's error. Another third-down throw later went through Dorsett's hands.
Brady's third-quarter throw to Julian Edelman that was squeezed into tight coverage was tremendous. As was an early third-down conversion to Ben Watson. But it felt like a mediocre day, leading to a mediocre grade.
RUNNING BACK: C+
There was some room for this group in this game. The Patriots ended up averaging 4.5 yards per carry. And Sony Michel ran hard when he had room. Power runs, counter runs, zone runs — they all led to yardage.
But Michel had issues getting downhill at times, and was taken down for negative plays more than once. Those are drive-stallers. The first-and-goal situation at the one-yard line in the second quarter was a killer. While there wasn't much room there created by the offensive line, there's never much room created by the offensive line in those spots. Being unable to punch it in from there is largely on the backs.
Julian Edelman had a devastating late-game drop. N'Keal Harry had a first-down drop that killed a drive before it started on one of his eight targets. Phillip Dorsett was unable to connect with Brady more than once on his four targets. Mohamed Sanu continued to provide the team with very little, catching one pass on three targets for 11 yards.
The Patriots needed help from this group. They'd been desperate for help from this group all year. Outside of Edelman's end-around run for a touchdown, they provided very little.
TIGHT END: B-
Benjamin Watson wasn't just the team's best tight end on the night. He might've been their best pass-catcher, regardless of position.
His first grab was contested and went for a first down on third-and-long. He ended up catching three on four targets for 38 yards. He had a drop mixed in as well so it wasn't all good.
Matt LaCosse was used primarily as a blocker, blocking on 24 of his 33 snaps. He cleared some space in the run game but was responsible for one hit on Tom Brady.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
The Titans used numbers in coverage for the vast majority of the night. They only blitzed Tom Brady three times and pressured him on five of his 37 drop-backs. And two of those pressures were the result of extended dropbacks. Coverage pressures, if you will.
The reason this grade isn't higher? The short-yardage struggles, particularly at the goal line, were the difference in the game. Also an understandable, though costly illegal-man-downfield penalty on Shaq Mason — who clearly thought Brady was scrambling for yards when he wasn't — didn't help.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Jake Bailey had two of his four punts go for touchbacks and a third was shanked. Not his best day. Mohamed Sanu returned one punt for 23 yards, which might make you wonder why the Patriots didn't try to return more over the course of the season. He fair-caught two more. Nick Folk made all three of his kicks, helping this grade.
Still, it was a unit that has been leaned on for big plays at different points this year. They tried to block a kick late -- opting not to return it and letting the ball bounce to their one-yard line -- which failed. Hard to live off of those.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D
Part of the plan was to limit the Titans through the air. Their quarterback was averaging close to 10 yards per attempt coming in. Their play-action passing game was among the best in football. But they didn't want to give up all the yardage they gave up on the ground. That much was obvious.
With their base defense on the field — meaning three heavy defensive linemen — they got gashed time and again. Deatrich Wise is built more like a 4-3 end than a 3-4 end and had problems holding up during the game's first drive, during which Derrick Henry ran seven times for 49 yards. Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Adam Butler all had their share of issues against the run in this one.
Dont'a Hightower was willing to meet blocks head-on, the way the Patriots are typically asked to do in Bill Belichick's defense.
But on Tennessee's two scoring drives, they had linebackers — first it was Elandon Roberts, then it was Jamie Collins — who either hesitated with their run fits, guessed wrong or tried to run around blocks. That led to open running lanes for Derrick Henry, which led to defensive backs having to try to bring down the behemoth back. Not ideal.
J.C. Jackson was in position to make a tackle on Derrick Henry as the Titans started their two-minute drive at the end of the first half. He simply couldn't do it. The result? A 29-yard run. Henry also out-ran Duron Harmon's angle on that play that sparked one of two Titans touchdown drives in the game.
Losing Patrick Chung early on had the Titans targeting Terrence Brooks in critical spots. Limited with a groin injury during the week leading up to the game, Brooks was beaten by Anthony Firkser for a first-quarter touchdown and a critical fourth-quarter first down. Both came on third-and-long snaps.
Ryan Tannehill passed for just 72 yards — and a paltry 4.8 yards per attempt — and was picked off by Harmon. So this group was solid. But in big-time spots, they couldn't come up with the stop the Patriots needed.