Patriots Hold Top Spot In AFC With 33-16 Win Over Titans

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes against pressure from Tennessee Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo (98) in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes against pressure from Tennessee Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo (98) in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)

The New England Patriots moved one step closer to a first-round bye in playoffs. The Tennessee Titans' future is very much in doubt.

Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns to help the Patriots hold onto the top spot in the AFC, beating Tennessee 33-16 on Sunday and knocking Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota out with a knee injury in the first half.

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft, Mariota left the game and did not return after being sacked to stop consecutive second-quarter possessions.

Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 267 yards for New England (12-2). James White caught seven passes for 71 yards, including a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and Keshawn Martin added a 75-yard kickoff return to set up another score.

Rob Gronkowski caught a 5-yard score, and Akiem Hicks fell on the ball in the end zone after Jamie Collins' strip-sacked Mariota for New England's other TD.

The rookie quarterback was sacked to end the next drive, too. Zach Mettenberger replaced him and completed 20 of 28 passes for 242 yards, two touchdowns - both to Delanie Walker - and two interceptions.

Walker had a 7-yard catch in the third quarter and then a 57-yard rumble down the right sideline with 7 minutes left in the game. Ryan Succop missed the extra point, leaving Titans (3-11) with a 27-16 deficit.

But Brady led the Patriots to the Tennessee 23, and Stephen Gostkowski put one through off the upright to make it a two-touchdown game. After Collins intercepted Mettenberger and ran it back 51 yards to the Titans'16, Gostkowski added another field goal to clinch it.

Already mired in a lost season, with coach Ken Whisenhunt fired midway through the year, the Titans could lose the chance to continue grooming Mariota. The rookie quarterback had already missed two games this year with a left knee injury.

Brady took the Patriots 79 yards on their first possession, connecting with Gronkowski from 5 yards out to make it 7-0. They made it 14-0 when Chandler Jones strip-sacked Mariota at the Tennessee 17; Hicks chased the ball and knocked it into the end zone before falling on it for the touchdown.

Tennessee's drive stalled again, but Danny Amendola fumbled the punt and the Titans took over at the New England 26. Unable to move - and again giving up a third-down sack of Mariota - they settled for a 49-yard field goal by Succop that helped them avoid the fate of their last trip to New England, a 59-0 shutout in 2009.

But Mariota went to the sideline and never returned.

And things got worse on the field, too: Martin ran the kickoff back 75 yards to the Titans' 30. On the next play, Brady threw a swing pass to White out of the backfield, and he ran it in to make it 21-3.

Notes: Brady was listed as questionable with an illness on Friday, but he started and played the whole game. ... Gostkowski missed just his second field goal attempt of the season and his first from inside of 50 yards. ... Other injuries in the game: Patriots WR Amendola (knee), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee) and S Patrick Chung (hip).

This article was originally published on December 20, 2015.



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