Patriots

Patriots tight end Ben Watson sounds as if he’s calling it a career

“I love playing this game, but there is a time when you definitely have to move on."

Ben Watson missed this pass, which was almost picked off by the Titans’ Logan Ryan in the second quarter. john tlumacki

FOXBOROUGH — It sounds as if Ben Watson’s time with the Patriots — and with the NFL — has come to an end once more.

Watson, who turned 39 recently, retired at the end of last season. He changed his mind and returned in May, when the Patriots signed him to a one-year contract in the wake of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement.

Now, it sounds as if Watson is done for good.

“You know,’’ he said, pausing for 10 seconds to contemplate his words, “you know, it’s difficult.

“I love playing this game, but there is a time when you definitely have to move on. Definitely won’t be back here next year probably and probably won’t be playing at all.

“You know, it’s something that I’ve tried to do before and it didn’t work, but there’s only so much your body can take and so much you can put your family through before you want to settle down and have some roots and figure out what the next chapter of your life is going to be.’’

Watson missed four games because of a suspension for using testosterone, and was released by the Patriots in October when he wasn’t activated for a Week 5 matchup against Washington.

But it took just a week for the Patriots to bring him back to bolster an ailing offensive group that needed a spark. It wasn’t Watson who provided it, though. He had just 17 receptions in eight regular-season starts.

He had 38 yards on three receptions in the Patriots’ loss to the Titans on Saturday night, but was the victim of a Shaq Mason penalty that negated his biggest play of the evening.

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Score one for Vrabel

Titans coach Mike Vrabel pulled a trick right out of Bill Belichick’s book in the fourth quarter when he employed a loophole that allowed the Titans to burn 1 minute, 55 seconds off the clock and make his former coach livid while doing it.

The loophole involves intentionally drawing penalties while the clock is running, which means the clock will remain running after the penalty is enforced. It can only be done in the first 10 minutes of a quarter.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because Belichick used the same strategy against the Jets in October, drawing delay-of-game and false start penalties that Adam Gase kept declining. The maneuver tickled Belichick so much, he even cracked a smile on the sideline.

This time, Belichick was seething. He was caught on camera ripping off some expletives in the ear of an official.

The Titans committed two five-yard penalties — a false start, then a delay of game — before the Patriots committed one of their own, a neutral zone infraction. The Titans’ Brett Kern finally punted the ball away with 4:51 left in the game.

Critical absence

Patriots safety Patrick Chung injured his ankle in the first quarter, on the play before Tennessee took its first lead, and his absence the remainder of the game proved ultra costly.

Chung was hurt making a tackle, and though his return was called questionable by the team, it never came. He was replaced by safety Terrence Brooks, who has been battling a groin injury and whom Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill picked on immediately, hitting a touchdown to tight end Anthony Firkser.

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Chung often covers tight ends, and he figured a huge defensive presence given Tennessee’s reliance on the position. Tight ends Firkser and Jonnu Smith combined for just three catches, but Firkser’s two swung the game in the Titans’ direction. In addition to the touchdown, the first scored by a Harvard alumnus in NFL postseason history, Firkser had arguably the biggest catch of the game.

On 3rd-and-8, with Tennessee leading 14-13 and less than three minutes remaining, Firkser hauled in an 11-yard pass from Tannehill — right in front of Brooks — to convert a crucial first down. Had New England’s defense come up with a stop, the Titans would have been forced to punt from their own 15-yard line.

Firkser, a New Jersey native, played four seasons of football at Harvard. The 24-year-old ranks sixth all-time in touchdown receptions and ninth in receiving yards. After graduating with a degree in applied mathematics, Firkser went undrafted in 2017. Before signing with the Titans in May 2018, he spent four months with the Jets, and a season on the Chiefs’ practice squad.

Get your tickets

The stands were full and loud Saturday, despite lower-than-normal ticket prices. Two hours before kickoff, the lowest ticket price available on Ticketmaster was $170. That wasn’t much of a change from the middle of the week, when the “get-in’’ price was $181 including fees, according to a spokesman from secondary ticket market vendor TickPick.

According to TickPick, the average purchase price for tickets was $445.98, second-most of any of the wild card-games and just behind Saints-Vikings ($448.84). Still, that’s down from big regular-season games against the Chiefs ($637) and Cowboys ($719.93), according to a story by MassLive.

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The Titans don’t have a huge fan base, so it’s possible there was less demand from visiting fans. It’s also possible that the cold, rainy weather dampened desire.

McCourty still out

For the fifth time in seven games, the Patriots were without cornerback Jason McCourty because of a nagging groin injury.

After starting the first 10 games opposite All-Pro Stephon Gilmore, McCourty injured the groin at Philadelphia in Week 11 and wasn’t been able to completely shake it.

There were no surprises on the rest of the New England’s inactives, including offensive linemen Jermaine Eluemunor and Korey Cunningham; running back Damien Harris; tight end Ryan Izzo; quarterback Cody Kessler; and defensive tackle Byron Cowart.

For the Titans, receivers Adam Humphries, Cody Hollister, and Kalif Raymond; guard Kevin Pamphile; defensive end Reggie Gilbert; and defensive tackles Isaiah Mack and Joey Ivie were inactive.

Bits and pieces

Titans coaches got a workout in during the warm-up period before the game. Mike Vrabel and three other coaches did pushups, planks and squats for about 15 minutes on the sideline before players came on the field. Vrabel held his plank for a few minutes, but he did modify his pushups . . . The Patriots ended the season losing back-to-back home games. They went 104 home games between consecutive home losses, by far the longest stretch in NFL history. Miami is second, going 88 straight from 1976–86, according to Elias Sports . . . Belichick has lost his most recent game against each of his former assistants and players who are active head coaches: Vrabel, Miami’s Brian Flores, Houston’s Bill O’Brien, and Detroit’s Matt Patricia . . . The Patriots allowed Derrick Henry to slash them for 182 yards on the ground, and fell to 3-4 at home in the playoffs since 2001 when allowing more than 120. They’re 17-0 below that number . . . New England’s 222 first-half yards were their most since Week 6 . . . When the Titans marched down the field for a touchdown on their first possession, that was out of character. Tennessee scored just 13 points on their opening possessions in the regular season, tied with the Texans for second fewest in the league . . . Tennessee’s 71 passing yards were the fewest by any team in a playoff win since the Ravens threw for just 34 when they beat the Patriots on Jan. 10, 2010, in the last wild-card game the team played in before Saturday.

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