Can you believe it? Better wait
FOXBOROUGH - Patriots 59, Titans 0.
What was that? What did it mean? To paraphrase the late Jack Buck, did I just see what I just saw?
45-0 at the half? Five Tom Brady touchdown passes in the second quarter? Brady sitting down with a period and a half to play after leading his team to scores on the first eight of what would become nine straight productive possessions? (Doc Rivers isn’t even asking for that.)
It was all so surreal it might actually be necessary to call the league office and ask, “This counts, right?’’
I said coming in I didn’t think the Titans were an 0-5 team. They’re not. They’re an 0-10 team. Or soon will be if they play more games like this. I guess we safely can surmise they don’t like playing in the snow, which, by the way, kind of caught everyone by surprise.
There have been some woeful rival performances in both the old stadium here in Foxborough and the new, but this one may set a standard of ineptitude for decades. It was all there for the Titans/Oilers: no offense, unbelievably atrocious defense (some Patriots receivers were embarrassingly open), three fumbles lost, two interceptions, and a shanked Reggie Hodges punt. The Patriots scored out of all three first-half turnovers, plus the shanked punt.
“You know,’’ said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, “I guess it’s fortunate for me, career-wise, I’ve never been through anything like this before. Unfortunately, it happened [yesterday]. I can assure you one thing, it’s not going to happen again.’’
“It’s about as bad as it gets,’’ said Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins. “Period. The end.’’
OK, OK, OK, it probably would be fair to mention that your New England Patriots were pretty darn good, now that I think about it.
But how good? Where does one team’s astonishing awfulness coincide with another’s obvious efficiency? Would the Patriots have beaten anyone playing the way they did yesterday? Would the Titans/Oilers have lost to anyone playing the way they did yesterday? We might be entering existential question territory here.
Wanna hear something funny? The game started off on a negative Patriot note.
On the Patriots’ first possession, Brady got the ball at the Tennessee 29 following a 35-yard Julian Edelman punt return, eventually reaching a third and 3 at the Titans 10. But Brady and the Patriots incurred a delay of game penalty in advance of a Brady sack, pushing them back to the 21. Stephen Gostkowski went wide right from 37 yards out, and that would be the last unsuccessful Patriots possession until a Brian Hoyer-led drive fizzled at the Titans 6 more than two hours, 579 yards, eight touchdowns, and a field goal later.
It was a late afternoon and early evening for numbers and mosts. What’s more incomprehensible, the Patriots scoring a franchise-record 59 points (all offensive), the Patriots winning the biggest shutout spread of the post-merger era, the Patriots amassing a franchise-record 619 total yards, Brady matching a career high with six touchdown passes, Brady throwing for five TDs in the second quarter, the Patriots leading by an all-time NFL halftime record of 45-0 . . . or Tennessee’s two quarterbacks completing two passes for minus-7 net yards?
Yeah, it was snowing. The miserable rain changed to pretty heavy snow around 3 o’clock. It was a January look and feel, all right. But these guys are all pros, no? They don’t all come from Sun Belt schools. A glance at the Tennessee roster reveals a representative sampling of Michigan States, Purdues, Montana States, and the like. But the Titans/Oilers acted as if this falling white stuff was a new experience.
Let’s talk quarterbacks. How could one team throw for 432 yards and the other throw for minus-7 (yes, another post-merger record)? Forget Vince Young, who was thrown into this with five seconds left in the third quarter, long enough to go 0 for 2. Collins played four years at Penn State, and, last time I looked, State College was somewhat north of, say, Brownsville, Texas. And he’s lasted 15 years in the NFL. Five of those years were spent with the New York Giants. Surely somewhere along the way he’s played in tough weather. So how do you account for 2 for 12, a long gain of 15, and a QB rating of 4.9?
In the same conditions Brady went 29 for 34 for 380 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a QB rating, for what it’s worth, of 152.8. Was it a simple matter of him just being Tom Brady - finally! - and Kerry Collins being Kerry Collins? Was it an even simpler matter of Brady knowing enough to move his hand up on the football for better control in the elements and Collins never figuring that out?
Or did it have as much or more to do with Brady’s receivers being far less fazed by the elements? There’s no question Collins had a few early discouraging drops, whereas Brady began the game by completing his first seven passes to receivers who seemed happy to be out there.
Entering this game, there was much talk about him not having had a completion of 40 yards or more in the first five games. By halftime he had two, including a 40-yard flea-flicker TD to Randy Moss, plus a 38-yarder (thanks to predictable good yards after the catch by Kevin Faulk).
Entering this game, there was lots of talk about both the spotty play of Laurence Maroney and the fact that no Patriots running back had broken a 20-yarder. So, naturally, Maroney scored on a 45-yard run.
“Coach [Bill] Belichick was on us about being the only team in the league without a 40-yard pass play or a 20-yard run,’’ Brady said. “I guess this will keep him quiet for a while.’’
For the Titans/Oilers, it was a certified nightmare, the logical assumption that this 13-3 team of a year ago finally has bottomed out. For the Patriots, it was sheer reverie, with every possible thing that could go their way going their way. The good news carried over into the evening, because the Jets’ stunning OT loss to Buffalo left New England as the first-place team in the AFC East.
But how good are the Patriots, really? How much can anyone take from such a bizarre game? All we can say is that they will surely mop up the Buccaneers next Sunday in London to hit the bye week at 5-2. After that: Miami, at Indianapolis, the Jets, at New Orleans and at Miami.
This was great. This was fun. This was history. But was it meaningful? Let’s watch the next six games. Then we’ll talk.