On a day like this, you cannot help but ponder a succession of thoughts . . .
First quarter, 13:36 remaining, scoreless. Tennessee punter Reggie Hodges kicks a 35-yard liner to Julian Edelman, who leaves Titans sliding and sprawling all over the field as he returns the punt a fitting 35 yards. The Patriots complete passes on their first two plays, then take a delay-of-game penalty and a sack before Stephen Gostkowski misses a 39-yard field goal. The Titans get the ball back at the 29-yard line, the precise point they originally punted from, and the precise point from which the Patriots began their possession.
All of that work for, well, nothing.
"The footing was no good, but that goes both ways," Titans defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch said after the 59-0 defeat to the Pats. ``We just had too many mistakes and some of it was footing, but it all falls back on us.’’
Still, at this stage, you can’t help but wonder: Is this going to be a 3-0 game? Maybe 7-6? Or 10-9?
First quarter, 5:51 remaining, Patriots lead 7-0. After Sammy Morris goes down with a knee injury in the first quarter, the Patriots go 79 yards in five plays, the last 45 yards coming on a touchdown run by Laurence Maroney. On the play, Maroney slips through the line as if negotiating his way through a crowded bar on the way to the rest room. Once he sees daylight, he runs as if his bladder is about to explode.
"It was a simple dive play up and we were able to split the defense and Laurence took it full-speed ahead and took it to the house," said center Dan Koppen. "It was a great run by him. He saw the crease and hit it."
Maroney finished with 123 yards on 16 carries, yet the question persists. Fred Taylor is out. Morris may be out. Kevin Faulk is a situational player, which leaves Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the only true ball carriers on the Patriots roster.
After all of that talk about the Patriots needing a wide receiver, maybe they actually need another running back.
Second quarter, 9:56 remaining, Patriots lead 17-0. The Patriots complete a six-play, 65-yard drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss on a flea-flicker. Green-Ellis takes a handoff from Brady, runs into the line and flips the ball back to Brady, who then fires the first of his five touchdown passes in the quarter. After entering the game without a completion of 40 or more yards this season, Brady now has two in the first 20 minutes, the other being a 48-yard strike to Wes Welker in the first quarter.
After the game, Brady and Welker both note how coach Bill Belichick harped all week on his team’s inability to make big plays on offense.
"I think we just kind of got sick of hearing him and wanted to shut him up," Welker said later. "I think maybe today we did that a little bit."
Second quarter, 0:12 remaining, Patriots lead 45-0. In slightly less than 10 minutes, the Patriots score their fifth touchdown on 5-yard pass from Brady to Welker. During the second quarter alone, the Titans turned the ball over on three straight possessions and the Patriots score five touchdowns on five possessions. New England is pouring it on with ease and effortlessness. On a 30-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Welker that made it 38-0, the Tennessee secondary looks so downright clueless that you cannot but wonder if you are now witnessing the most disgraceful performance by a team in the history of professional sports.
"I have never been through anything like this before," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said after the game. "You know, I am very disappointed, obviously, and embarrassed to say the least."
Said Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, "It’s about as bad as it gets, period, the end. We just need to take a look at where we are at and use this bye week to our advantage and get this thing figured out."
Added Tennessee tight end Bo Scaife, "We’re just not playing very well right now."
Third quarter, 10:13 remaining, Patriots lead 52-0. Having built a 45-0 lead at halftime, the Patriots receive to open the second half and begin the third quarter with their first-string offense. They march 65 yards in nine plays for yet another touchdown, this one on a 9-yard strike from Brady to Moss.
The mind starts to wander: Is Belichick running up the score for comments made by Fisher in the wake of the Spygate mess? Are Patriots still ticked about the Bobby Wade block that caused a knee injury to Rodney Harrison in 2006, the last times the teams met?
Slightly more than eight minutes later, on fourth and 6 from the Tennessee 31-yard line -- and with Brian Hoyer at quarterback – the wheels spin faster. The Patriots are too far to kick a field goal and too close to punt. The Pats go for it and convert, then score another touchdown to make it 59-0 before the third quarter officially draws to a close.
Naturally, this leads to inevitable questions of sportsmanship.
"No," Fisher said when asked if he felt the Patriots pushed the envelope. "[Throwing] was their plan going in. Why are they going to change their plan?"
Said Belichick, actually looking and sounding somewhat uncomfortable by the result: "When we put Brian in … look, we’re not trying to do anything but run our offense. And that’s what we wanted to give Brian a chance to do was to run the plays he’s going to have to run at some point if he plays, whether they’re passes, third-down plays, check-with-me plays, whatever they are. We went into the game with a game plan and I know the score got out of hand, but we were just trying to run our offense when Brian or whoever else was in there, whether it was Kendall [Simmons], Dan [Connolly], BenJarvus [Green-Ellis] - and all those guys got to play. When they were in there we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. You’ve only got 45 guys for the game. Somebody’s got to play."
Fourth quarter, 6:56 left, Patriots leading 59-0. Titans running back Ahmard Hall runs for five yards before hit by Brandon McGowan, then commits the fifth of six Tennessee fumbles on the day. This one results in the Titans’ fifth and final turnover -- they recovered three fumbles -- when veteran linebacker Junior Seau emerges with the football. Of course, Seau was probably surfing slightly more than a week ago, likely expending more energy than he did against the pathetic Titans.
"That was my training camp," Seau said of the game.
For the Titans, perhaps, that was the unkindest cut of all.
At the end of the day, a soon-to-be 41-year-old man just treated you like a tackling dummy.
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