Tennessee Titans must study New England Patriots’ last loss to Miami Dolphins

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 20: Tom Brady /

Combing through the tape of Tom Brady and the Patriots’ last loss can provide the Tennessee Titans with insight into how to attack them.

The New England Patriots don’t lose often, but they do lose. Their last loss came on the road to the division rival Miami Dolphins. How did Miami slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots? The Tennessee Titans will study just that.

One of the important aspects to understand about New England is the fact that they are a first-down generating machine. The Patriots lead the league in first downs with 389 total. New England has found success in achieving first downs either through the air or on the ground, but the majority favors the former.

Moving the chains is one of the things the Patriots do best. It allows them to work through more plays, which provides the offense with hints of what works and what doesn’t. It also keeps their defense well-rested.

In the Patriots’ last loss, the Miami Dolphins prevented New England from achieving a first down until the beginning of the second quarter. How did the Dolphins make that happen? Credit QB Jay Cutler and the Miami offense for chewing time off the clock in the opening quarter. Cutler was hitting short passes for positive yards and getting the occasional yards after the catch bonus from his receivers.

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Miami also did a good job of mixing in running plays with RB Kenyan Drake, who took his first carry for 26 yards. Drake had a few carries for negative yards in the opening series and failed to convert on a 3rd and 1. The Dolphins went for it on 4th down, being that they were in New England territory. Cutler was successful on the play action due to the Patriots respecting what Drake had done earlier in the drive.

Although it resulted in just three points, it helped melt two more minutes off the clock. That’s two fewer minutes of Tom Brady on offense. Plus, every point matters when playing New England.

Brady Mistakes

As the signal-caller for the Patriots, Brady has done tremendous things on the football field and acquired some jewelry along the way. The savvy vet rarely makes mistakes, but when he does, the opposition must capitalize. If opposing teams are able to turn a Brady turnover into points, it helps a great deal.

In Brady’s first series against the Dolphins, he threw an errant pick when going deep for WR Brandin Cooks on a 3rd and 10. Miami’s Xavien Howard plucked the ball from the sky and sent Brady back to the sidelines. The Patriots offense only managed to take about 46 seconds off the clock on the drive.

Miami responding by putting together an eight-play drive that shaved over four minutes off the clock and resulted in another three points. New England went three and out on their following series and only took a little over a minute off the clock. Brady on the sidelines is the best defense that can be played against the Patriots.

The Dolphins offense stalled and were forced to punt on their next two possessions. Brady being Brady knew he couldn’t produce another fruitless drive. He did what he’s done so well for years, which is gain chunks of yards between the 20s. The Patriots scored seven and took the lead.

How did the Dolphins respond? In the exact fashion they needed to.

Don’t Stop Attacking

Miami drove the ball 80 yards in a little under three minutes. In two plays, Cutler passed for 64 yards. He hit TE Anthony Fasano for 17 and found Drake for a huge 47-yard gain. The ensuing play was a Dolphin touchdown that was negated by a false start penalty. Miami knew another three points wouldn’t cut it.

The Dolphins had to answer Brady with a seven-point score. Cutler found WR Jarvis Landry in the end zone, and just like that Miami regained the lead and avoided undergoing the dreaded, confidence-rattling thought process that New England is notorious for putting their opponents through. Instead of hanging their heads, Miami realized that they are capable of beating the defending Super Bowl champs.

The second half began with the Patriots trailing by three points after the Dolphins defense held Brady to three before the first half ended. Having said that, the Patriots had the opening possession of the half. Brady’s first series of the second half ended identically to his first: with a Howard pick on a Cooks target.

This was the moment. The Dolphins are familiar with the Patriots enough to know they were reeling. The following possession had to result in a touchdown. Brady’s psyche becomes unbalanced when his turnovers result in points for the other team. The Titans must strive to provoke that thought process.

Another Pats possession, another punt. Brady couldn’t immediately shake off the previous turnover, and it showed on the ensuing series. Again, the Patriots were wobbly and Miami knew they needed to take another shot at the chin. Miami did just that, and another seven points put the Dolphins in a seemingly comfortable position with a 27-10 lead.

But as the last Super Bowl evidenced, the Patriots are never out and the pressure must be sustained late in the game. No lead is safe, because Brady will never quit.

The Dolphins allowed just 10 points throughout the rest of the game. That was enough to secure the win.

Miami won the battle of first downs, earning 21 to New England’s 14 on the day. The Dolphins won the time of possession battle by having the ball for roughly 13 more minutes. For Brady, who can score at will at times, not seeing the field for 13 extra minutes is like an eternity. It helped that when he was on the field, he was turning the football over.

The Patriots did not convert a single 3rd down on 11 attempts. The Titans defense must strive to achieve the same thing. Their performance against Brady will be instrumental in either a road upset or elimination.

Brady Beats Brady

There is a reason why Brady is considered the G.O.A.T. In his illustrious career, he’s only lost 55 times in the regular season. In the playoffs, he’s only lost nine times. He’s nearly unbeatable in Foxborough.

The Titans defense will be tested by Brady. He’ll work every section of the field, every defender on the field and his thirst for blood won’t be quenched. He feeds off of exploiting the defense’s weaknesses. If Brady finds a crack in the shield, he’ll do everything in his power to strike that weakness.

Tennessee’s secondary doesn’t have a wealth of experience. Fortunately, having former Patriots DB Logan Ryan on the roster should help. He developed in New England and has four years of practice experience facing Brady. He also has been a part of New England’s playoff preparation, so he’ll have an idea of what the Pats could be thinking.

The Titans defense needs to play a near perfect game against one of the best–if not the best–to ever do it. Tennessee cannot show fear or even give Brady a sniff of wavering confidence. If the Titans can somehow manage to produce some early turnovers and the offense can find a way to put up any points off the turnovers, the Titans will be in a good spot.

Tennessee cannot let this game get away from them early. To their credit, what the Titans were able to accomplish on the road in Kansas City down 21-3 late in the third quarter was legendary. But the Titans cannot count on another fairy tale ending and need to go into the game feeling like the bully.

Brady is best when his team establishes a lead early. Tennessee–as was seen with Miami–has to keep pounding the ball, move the sticks and keep Brady on the sidelines. Every second counts. The best defense for the Titans will be what production they can generate from their offense.

A flat offense won’t cut it. Tennessee has to dictate the pace, impose their will and gain confidence early. Brady will capitalize on the Titans’ mistakes, so there has to be few or none in Foxborough.

The Titans will go into the game knowing that virtually no one is giving them a chance to win, which is the exact coal that keeps their fire burning. The media will certainly give them a surplus of snippets and quotes to put on display in their locker room throughout the week to serve as motivation.

Tennessee will be aware of Brady’s playoff record, his record at home, his record against the Titans and the 59-0 shellacking of 2009 in New England. They will familiarize themselves with the history, but won’t focus on it. The focus will be on dethroning the defending Super Bowl champions.

Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans /

Tennessee Titans

The lone time Brady was bested by the Titans was in his first meeting against the team back in the 2002 season. The Titans were one of seven teams to beat New England that season. Since that time, Brady has never lost to Tennessee.

Throughout this season, the Titans have been checking off a lot of boxes on their goals list. Tennessee would most definitely be eager to checkmark the box of beating Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions in the playoffs in Foxborough.

It will take their best effort to do so. With their backs against the wall, the Titans are betting on themselves. Besides, the pressure isn’t on the Titans to win. The pressure is on New England. The divisional game many are billing as a “cakewalk” or “another bye week” is a can’t lose game for the Patriots.

But that’s the beauty of sports, right? Anything can happen, especially when it’s least expected.

Every Mike Tyson has a Buster Douglas. Down 3-1 doesn’t guarantee a victory, as was displayed by the Golden State Warriors over the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers over those same Warriors. For every Ronda Rousey, there is a Holly Holm. The Patriots know this firsthand. Twice they fell to the underdog New York Giants. Once in their quest for a perfect season.

Superman has kryptonite. The Titans face the proverbial Superman of the NFL (although Cam Newton does the celebration) in Brady. Dick LeBeau has to infuse some kryptonite into the core of his young and hungry defense.

If New England does lose, it could trigger a butterfly effect that gives credence to all the noise surrounding Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft’s crumbling empire.