Sunday, October 18, 2009

Patriots-Titans halftime: It got ugly fast

Much like the last time the Patriots played at Gillette Stadium in the snow, this one got out of hand early. The key difference: The Arizona Cardinals had wrapped up a playoff berth and were playing out the string, but the Tennessee Titans came into this game 0-5 and had to be playing with a sense of desperation.

(Every loss by the Titans, by the way, benefits the Patriots, who own the Titans' second-round pick. At the rate they're going, the Titans are going to be handing the Patriots the No. 33 overall pick in next year's draft in exchange for the third-rounder they received last April.)

It's 45-0 at the half and getting more absurd by the minute.

Assorted halftime notes:
* The Patriots didn't have a play of 40 yards or longer entering today's game. They had three in the first half: Laurence Maroney rushed for a 45-yard touchdown, a huge play in the immediate aftermath of a knee injury suffered by Sammy Morris, and Tom Brady hit Wes Welker for a 48-pass down the left side to set up a field goal. Brady then hit Randy Moss on a playground-style flea flicker for a 40-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter.

Brady finished the first half with what has to be the best first-half statistics of his career: 24 completions on 28 attempts for 345 yards and five touchdowns. Brady had six touchdown passes all season coming into today's game -- and he threw for five touchdowns in the second quarter alone. Of his first 20 pass attempts, his only incomplete pass was a deep ball for Moss that seemed to get knocked down by the wind.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Brian Hoyer take all of the second-half snaps. No sense playing Brady in consitions like this with the score looking like it does.

* Morris, by the way, needed quite a bit of help to get to the locker room in the first quarter and has not returned to the game. The injury was to his left knee.

* Rookie Sebastian Vollmer started in place of the injured Matt Light and didn't look much like he was making his first career start. It was Vollmer, in fact, who keyed Maroney's touchdown run in the first quarter, pulling from the left side into a gap on the right side and leading Maroney right through the first and second levels of the Titans' defense.

The Patriots have done their part to make life easier for Vollmer, though, frequently lining tight end Chris Baker up alongside Vollmer to help take care of Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. When Brady hit Welker for that 48-yard pass, it was Baker who had primary duty on Vanden Bosch and Vollmer who chipped away at him.

But on a sideline pass to Sam Aiken late in the second quarter, Vollmer deftly shed Vanden Bosch to fend off blitzing cornerback Ryan Mouton and give Brady a chance to get rid of the ball. And on the next play, the screen pass that Kevin Faulk took 38 yards for a touchdown, Vollmer was matched up one-on-one with Vanden Bosch and held the defensive end off long enough for the screen to take shape.

Then again, on the touchdown pass to Welker that closed out the half, Baker took on Vanden Bosch by himself and left Vollmer to block no one at all.

* The absence of Adalius Thomas didn't prevent the Patriots from going back to their traditional 3-4 defense. Jarvis Green, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork started along the defensive line, and Derrick Burgess took the spot at outside linebacker that one would have expected Thomas to fill. The alignment left out Mike Wright, but when the versatile defensive lineman rotated into the game to give Wilfork a blow, he recovered a Kerry Collins fumble to set up the Patriots' third touchdown.

Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich and Pierre Woods all have seen time at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense.

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