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.
Mike Giardi thinks that Tom Brady should give half of his ring to Jimmy Garoppolo for lighting a candle under him and motivating him last season.
FOXBORO -- After starting the offseason "five weeks behind," as Bill Belichick put it, the Patriots have caught up.
"I think we’re probably caught up to where we are now," he said before Thursday's OTA practice at Gillette Stadium. "I think it’s being behind in draft, free agency and that type of thing.
"I think at this point, we’re ready for OTAs. We’ll be ready for training camp. I think that part of it we’ll be on schedule on. It’s the catching up on all the spring projects, draft and free agency. It’s the initial part of it."
Belichick made headlines on the morning after winning his fifth Lombardi Trophy with the Patriots when he said, "As of today, and as great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we're five weeks behind in the 2017 season to most teams in the league. Fortunately we have a great personnel staff
"Look, in a couple weeks we're going to be looking at the combine, obviously the draft, all-star games have already occurred, and in a month we're into free agency, not to mention all the internal Patriots players (whose) contracts are up and we're going to have to work with in some form or fashion like every team in the league does."
Leaning on evaluations of players that began in the build-up to previous drafts, Belichick and his staff opted to trade away some of this year's draft capital for veterans like Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy and Dwayne Allen. They also gave up their fifth-rounder to sign restricted free agent Mike Gillislee.
Before heading out to the team's third practice of the week -- the first week the Patriots were allowed to introduce helmets and run offense versus defense periods -- Belichick said that part of his focus will be spent on finding out how those players he picked up this offseason are progressing.
"Yeah, that’s definitely part of it," he said. "Seeing the new players, how they’re doing and also how they’re doing relevant to the rest of the other players that I’m a little more familiar with. Again, each year is a new year, so even though we’ve seen some of these guys multiple years, it’s still starting all over again, seeing where they are, how they’re progressing in their training and preparation for the season."