NASHVILLE - Tidbits, observations, bold statements and words spoken from the Patriots 34-13 win over the Titans. It's fun to try and find the junctures of the game where momentum hangs in the balance. The plays that can either put air into sails or take it right out. Sometimes they're obvious. Sometimes you need to dig a little. There were two plays in the third quarter of this 34-13 Patriots win that fit the "dig a little" definition. First, setting the scene. After a Patriots drive stalled to start the second half, the Titans needed just four plays to steam downfield and make the score 21-10 on a Jake Locker to Nate Washington touchdown pass. The LP Field crowd found its voice and, when the Patriots were stuck in a third-and-6 at their own 24. Go three-and-out and now you've got a young team with some momentum coming back at you. And Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski out on the left for a gain of 7, with Gronkowski making a near-impossible catch, plucking a bullet off the grass with his fingertips. Three plays later, on third-and-9, Brady again drilled it into Gronkowski in a crowd and he cradled the ball and got a favorable spot for another first down. The drive didn't result in points but it consumed time (4:30) and field position (70 yards when the Titans took over at their 10). The Titans wound up punting from their 2, the Patriots took over at the Tennessee 48 and when Stevan Ridley scored on a 1-yard run with 1:08 left in the quarter, it was 28-10 and drama had been removed. Everything is tied together in a football game. One circumstance leads to the next. But there are plays when crescendoes are either reached or avoided and those two Gronk catches qualify. The availability of right guard Dan Connolly is going to be a situation to watch. He left in the second half with a head injury and didn't return which leads to the concern it may be a concussion. Connolly's dealt with them in the past and the worry has to be (after concern for his brain), how the Patriots succession plan works (it was Donald Thomas on Sunday) and whether Brian Waters just got leverage or if that ship has sailed. On the messy, manic play where Jake Locker injured his left shoulder, there will be blame laid at the feet of the replacement officials. There shouldn't be. The bang-bang nature of the play on which Nate Washington was sandwiched by Tavon Wilson and Jerod Mayo made it impossible to tell if it was a fumble or an incompletion. Whether the refs were real or fake, that play went down as it needed to. Assume the fumble and play it out. For those of you who go to the stadiums for the NFL football games as opposed to the comfort of your couch, you'll like the fact the replay reviewsthe officials see are on the JumboTron as well simultaneously. FIRST HALF NOTES Tough start for Ras-I Dowling at corner on the first drive, coming in for the nickel alignment in place of Hightower and bouncing Kyle Arrington to the slot. He allowed a 17-yard completion to Kendall Wright on third-and-7 and had a PI as well. Marquice Cole - who had a very good preseason - later took over the slot position in nickel and Arrington stayed outside. The Titans picked up a first down on fourth-and-inches throwing over the top of Arrington who had 1-on-1 coverage. They got 17 yards to Damian Williams on a nice throw by Jake Locker. That first drive ended well for the Patriots when a fairly blatant PI on Devin McCourty went uncalled in the end zone and Tennessee settled for a field goal. McCourty was in as the kick returner for the lone Titans kickoff. Brandon Lloyd's first Patriots touchdown shoulda happened but, on that fake reverse bomb the Patriots love to run, Lloyd slowed down and saw a wobbly pass from Brady float over his head. Brady also had a pass glance off of the face of Wes Welker. Those two dropsmisplays were 66 percent of his incompletions. He finished 10 for 13 for 123 and two touchdown passes. The Patriots defense held Chris Johnson to 9 yards on 9 carries in the first half. Outstanding tackling all half. The offensive line held up 90 percent of the half. The downside? A sack by Kamerion Wimbley yielded by Nate Solder. That resulted in a cut to Brady's nose. Stevan Ridley had a big first half with 58 yards on nine carries. SebastianVollmer and Marcus Cannon split time on the right tackle edge. Welker (1 catch, 5 yards) sat for the second series. Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner - a Patriots pair of rookie safeties - showed up with a pick and a nice special teams tackle. Aaron Hernandez' versatility remains remarkable. He's had a direct snap carry for 5, a screen reception, and a 23-yard touchdown. Julian Edelman has had a bigger role in the regular offense in terms of snaps. He's still making shaky decisions on special teams, though, fielding a punt he should have fair caught. He got banged on the play and fumbled but the Titans were flagged for interfering with the catch. Jermaine Cunningham had a sack from the defensive tackle spot.
Tom Giles and CSN Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran discuss Donald Trump mentioning Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in his speech and the questioned asked by the media to Belichick and Brady in response.
FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers.
Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.
Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.
Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards.
Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets.
The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.
The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)