Chad Finn

In a matchup of talented, well-coached teams, Patriots wore down banged-up Titans

Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Devin McCourty tipped a pass intended for Cody Hollister (16) in the end zone, and J.C. Jackson picked it off.


Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ game . . .

The talented, well-coached, healthy team did what it was supposed to do.

It remained focused and eventually wore down the talented, well-coached, injury-ravaged team that found a way to stay with them for a while but didn’t have enough to do it all day.

The Patriots forced four turnovers and outscored the Titans, 20-0, in the second half in a 36-13 victory Sunday at Gillette Stadium. They’ve won six straight games, and while some flaws might have been exposed (the Titans ran for 270 yards on 39 carries), anyone who suggests at this point that they’re not a true contender in the AFC is doing so because they don’t want to believe it.

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Rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw for a career-best 310 yards and two touchdowns, an impressive showing in his first real cold-weather test. Jones missed some throws here and there and didn’t feel the rush at others, but he’s been so dependable it’s becoming easy to forget he’s a rookie. Oh, how the rest of the league must hate this.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review …

Three players who were worth watching

(Players suggested in Unconventional Preview: Kevin Byard, Dontrell Hilliard, Jonnu Smith)

J.C. Jackson: The fourth-year cornerback already is one of the most accomplished ballhawks in Patriots lore. He picked off his seventh pass of the season — and fifth of this six-game winning streak — by catching a Devin McCourty deflection of a Ryan Tannehill pass on fourth and goal from the New England 2-yard-line in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots up, 26-13. Jackson is now tied for ninth in Patriots history with 24 interceptions, catching up to Nick Buoniconti and Ronnie Lippett. Buoniconti collected his 24 picks in 91 games. Lippett did it in 122. Jackson played his 57th game as a Patriot Sunday. But his biggest defensive play Sunday — one of the bigger Patriots defensive plays of the season — did not result in an interception, but a fumble. With a little over 10 minutes to play in the third quarter and the Patriots holding a 19-13 lead, Titans running back D’Onta Foreman broke loose into the secondary, picking up 31 yards, with the possibility of more … until Jackson arrived on the scene and punched the ball loose. Jalen Mills pounced on the fumble and recovered at the Patriots’ 37-yard line, and what looked like a Titans opportunity to take the lead instead became another crucial turnover forced by one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

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Kendrick Bourne: Sure, I’ll say it again. He reminds me of David Patten, an engaging personality who can be leaned on to make important plays in important moments. Bourne scored a pair of touchdowns, showing off deft footwork on both. His first was a 4-yard grab in the right corner of the end zone that punctuated the Patriots’ first possession, putting them up 7-0. The second occurred in the third quarter, when Bourne took a shallow cross, got a helpful screen from Jakobi Meyers and tiptoed down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown, putting the Patriots up 26-13. This Patriots receiving group is much better than most of us figured it would be early in the season, yes?

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Kevin Byard: The Titans’ standout safety was everywhere, finishing with 12 tackles (nine solo) and a pass defensed. He also picked up his first sack of the season, blitzing Jones up the middle on third and 8 and taking him down for an 11-yard loss in the third quarter. He did have his issues in coverage at times, including on a 38-yard Jones-to-Meyers connection in the first half in which he seemed to underestimate the quarterback’s arm strength.

Grievance of the game

Any time your kicker is converting five field goals, as Nick Folk did (on six attempts, the miss a 53-yarder right before halftime), that means you probably have a kicker who can be relied upon. It also means you’re relying on him too much. The Patriots went just 1 for 3 in the red zone in the first half and 2 for 5 overall, and against better/healthier teams, they’re going to need to stop leaving points on the field. The biggest missed opportunity came when Jones overthrew a wide-open, touchdown-bound Hunter Henry near the 10-minute mark in the second quarter. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal and a 10-6 lead.

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Matchup

Titans running game versus Patriots run defense

It’s not often a team runs for 270 yards and loses (let alone loses by 20-plus points), but the Titans pulled off the feat of the feet. Dontrell Hilliard, who was called up from the practice squad during the week, was tackled by Lawrence Guy for a loss on the first play from scrimmage, then basically spent the rest of the afternoon ripping through the middle of the Patriots’ defense. He finished with 131 yards on 12 carries, including a 68-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the first half, while D’Onta Foreman also surpassed 100 yards, gaining 109 on 19 attempts. Both Hilliard and Freeman ended up losing a costly fumble. The Patriots entered Sunday’s game with the NFL’s eighth-ranked run defense (101.7 yards per game). They come out of it knowing that the Titans exposed some holes.

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Three notes scribbled in the margins

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed his first eight passes, hitting seven different receivers, one or two of whom you may have even heard of before. He went just 3 of 13 after that, and finished the day with 93 passing yards … Jonnu Smith had three catches on four targets for 49 yards against his former team, and also gained 9 yards on a jet sweep on the Patriots’ first possession. His 58 total yards is the most he’s had in a game as a Patriot, eclipsing his total in Week 7 against the Jets by a yard (52 receiving, 5 rushing) … Titans kicker Randy Bullock ricocheted two missed kicks off the right upright in the first quarter, an extra-point attempt and a 44-yard field goal bid in the second quarter. Kudos to CBS for having the goalposts miked up. There’s something oddly satisfying about hearing the “BONGGGG” of a football hitting the uprights.

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