Well, at least it wasn't 59-0.
There was a bright spot here or there, but the Tennessee Titans' 34-13 loss showed they still have plenty of work to be done in order to compete with elite level teams with the New England Patriots.
The Patriots, while not reaching the levels of their 2009 blasting of the Titans, were their usual machine-like selves in taking a 21-3 halftime lead and cruising to the season-opening win over the Titans.
Tom Brady was his usual efficient self, completing 23 of 30 passes for the Patriots for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Stevan Ridley gashed the Titans for 125 yards and another touchdown on 21 carries.
Jake Locker, making his first career start, finished 23 of 32 for 299 yards with the one touchdown and one interception. He also had a fumble on a sack that was returned six yards for a score by rookie Dont'a Hightower of the Patriots.
Titans coach Mike Munchak didn't want to get into how far apart the teams were, just that the Titans mistakes were telling in the defeat.
“When you don't play well, it's a loss, and I don't think it's necessarily how far apart we are,” Munchak said. “It's just a matter that it just shows you that you can't afford to make mistakes, and it's all about making plays.”
When it was over, the Titans had plenty of disappointment, plenty of key injuries and plenty to work on as they ready for a trip to San Diego next week, a place they have not won at since 1992.
“You've got to give it to them. They took advantage of our mistakes. We had a lot of opportunities out there, and we just didn't take advantage of them. And they did,” said receiver Damian Williams.
The debut of Locker as the Titans starting quarterback for the Titans had its moments. He checked out of a running play on a fourth-and-1 from the New England 37-yard line, seeing single coverage outside, and hit Nate Washington with a 24-yard pass play. That set up the first points of the game, a brief 3-0 lead on Rob Bironas' 24-yard field goal.
Later, in the second half, Locker scrambled away from a would-be sack and fired a 29-yard touchdown pass to Washington that pulled the Titans to within 21-10 in the third quarter.
The Locker moments were encouraging at times, though he exited the game with what was believed to be a separated shoulder in the fourth quarter and did not return.
But the momentum was short-lived and things went south for both Locker and Washington on the same play shortly thereafter.
Locker threw a pass to Washington down the middle of the field that was played as a catch and fumble on the field after Washington was KO'ed on the hit. Locker then injured his left shoulder while making the tackle. The play was eventually reviewed, and ruled a fumble.
Early indications are that Locker separated his shoulder on the play, but he could have returned and finished up if the Titans had chosen to put him back in late in the game. Locker said he expects to play Sunday when the Titans travel to San Diego.
“I just got banged up, but I felt like I could go back in the game. I'll get some treatment on it this week and I feel good about being able to play Sunday,” Locker said. “I felt like I could go back in. I told them that, but the medical staff made the decision they did.”
No matter, the Titans had lost both players for the duration of the game. Tennessee also played most of the second half without linebacker Colin McCarthy, who injured his right ankle and was in a walking boot on the sideline when the game ended.
Injuries and turnovers were far from the only problems for the Titans on Sunday.
Chris Johnson and the running game's struggles continued and worsened, as he was held to just four yards on 11 carries, his most notable woe being a 5-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 1, that helped force the Titans to settle for a field goal while trailing 28-10.
“I can't say what they were doing, but we didn't execute as a team,” Johnson said. “On the chances earlier in the game where we tried to run the ball, we just didn't execute basically.”
On defense, it was missed tackles that hurt the Titans more than any of the Patriots' big-time pass catchers, though two of New England's scores came from their tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They held Gronkowski to 60 yards on six catches and Hernandez to 59 yards on six grabs. What they probably didn't count on was Ridley running rough-shod over them most of the day.
“It was tackling. I know I missed some tackles, and I'm on myself right now about missing tackles,” safety Michael Griffin said. “That was one of the things that was preached and preached and preached on this season to try and get better. My focus right now is to just try to get better on tackling.
“In the first quarter, we were all out of whack. We calmed down in the second half, but in the first half we were all out of whack.”
In the end, it was a disappointing start to the Locker era, but at least enough encouraging signs to try and regroup.
“It's a little discouraging. We worked hard all off-season and all spring to prepare for this game. We were looking forward to it to come
out and perform well and we didn't. We have to make sure everything is sound next week to come out and perform properly. You can't turn the ball over, and you have to get touchdowns. Against a team like this you have to make sure you put up points. Unfortunately, today, we came up short,” Washington said.