Watch CBS News

James White, Brandon LaFell Stepping Up When Needed And Other Leftover Patriots Thoughts

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- That was ... kind of ... boring.

No, there's no way to try to put lipstick on that pigskin. Not all games are created equally, and in the case of what took place Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, we got what we expected. The best team in the AFC soundly defeated the worst team in the AFC. There's really nothing else to say.

Ha -- just kidding! We've got hundreds of words to spew and dozens of photos to share. This is football! There's always something to talk about.

So here we go, leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 33-16 win over the Titans.

--I don't think James White is great, but it's definitely newsworthy that he's risen to the challenge after Dion Lewis and then LeGarrette Blount were lost to injury for the season. Note this: In the past three games, White has 21 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Previously in his career, which began last year as a rookie, he had a total of 17 receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown.

The numbers could be even more skewed if the officials didn't mistakenly call Keshawn Martin for offensive pass interference after the receiver made contact with Brian Orakpo within a yard of the line of scrimmage on White's 70-yard burst in the fourth quarter.

There was reason to have some doubts about White's abilities, given the team's decision to not use him much at all for the first 25 or so games of his career. But his rapid development in the role of pass-catching running back will be crucial if this team is to make it to Santa Clara.

--In particular, I found White's field vision on his 30-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass to really stand out. The TV angles didn't really capture it that well, but when White caught the ball, he was essentially surrounded by Titans. But rather than accept a minimal gain, White casually cut in, toward the middle of the field, in an effort to draw in more Titans defenders and allow his blockers to get out in front of him, before bursting through the newly developed hole.

Here he is after cutting in, just as he starts to break outside:

James White
(Screen shot from

As Tom Brady said, "The touchdown run on the screen, I mean, from what I saw there wasn't much there, and then he was so patient to see things open up and then took advantage when the hole finally did open, accelerated through there and got in the end zone."

--White also picked up the #FerociousJuke torch, which is always a fun time.

James White
(Screen shot from

--Another positive development on offense that might have gone overlooked on Sunday was the contribution of Brandon LaFell. After dropping an eeeasy catch early in the second quarter vs. Houston last week, he's caught eight of 10 passes thrown his way, picking up 115 yards. With Danny Amendola leaving early due to a reaggravation of the knee injury, and with Julian Edelman a rightful question mark as he recovers from his broken foot, there's no getting around the fact that the Patriots need Brandon LaFell.

--When LaFell absorbed that helmet-to-facemask shot and still hung on to the football ... that was really something.

Brandon LaFell
(Screen shots from

I wasn't really sure that he actually maintained possession, reared the football through adolescence and tearfully sent it off to college, but I guess in the wake of him getting smashed in the face, nobody cared to double-check.

--The Patriots' defense is having a spectacular year, but I was surprised to see that Akiem Hicks' fumble recovery in the end zone was the unit's first touchdown of the season. With all those playmakers, and with a decent number of turnovers forced, you'd think they would've scored before Week 15.

The defense, by the way, sacked Tennessee quarterbacks five times, recorded two interceptions, forced a fumble, and held the Titans to 3-for-12 on third-down conversions.

--Rob Gronkowski has 66 career touchdowns (65 receiving, 1 rushing, though it wasn't really a rush). That is the second-most touchdowns in Patriots history, two behind Stanley Morgan.

Rob Gronkowski is 26 years old.

That is all.

--I cannot believe that Stephen Gostkowski missed a 48-yard field goal, but I suppose that says more about how excellent he is than anything else. It was just his second miss of the year, and the other one came on a 54-yard attempt on a cold night in Foxboro. Decent little season he's putting together.

--I didn't know the Ravens hired the equipment manager from that Aaron Rodgers insurance commercial.

Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

How was that ever considered a good idea? What was the idea? Off-colored football pants shouldn't bother me this much, yet here I am.

--Tom Brady played four games against the AFC South this season. In those four games, he went 101-for-144 (70.1 percent) for 1,163 yards (291 per game), 9 TDs and 1 INT. Imagine what Brady's career statistics might be if he were blessed enough to play, say, for a domed team in the AFC South, guaranteeing himself at least 11 games per season played in ideal conditions against perennial subpar teams. Heck, he might just have been able to become the most prolific passer of all time with a smoothly paved road like that one.

--Speaking of Peyton Manning, I find all the latest brouhaha to be wildly entertaining. If you missed it, the brief is that Ian Rapoport reported that Manning does not want to be a backup. The Broncos immediately went into scramble mode, with John Elway saying that such a conversation with Manning never happened, and with Manning himself later telling reporters that the report was "bull [poop]."

It's all hysterical, because there is not one chance in this world that Manning would happily stand on the sideline and hold a clipboard for Brock Freaking Osweiler. This all goes back to the initial "injury," which Gary Kubiak had to sit Manning down for an hour and convince him it existed in the first place. After Manning begrudgingly admitted he was injured (so that the Broncos could bench him), the PR machine began to spin (except for Jason La Canfora), and those who love Manning believe he's nothing but an A-plus, No. 1 teammate.

But to them I say this ... Peyton Manning once made his teammates not only orchestrate a ridiculous, staged "celebration" of his record-breaking touchdown pass, but he made them practice it.

Keep Away with Peyton Manning after touchdown 509! by Jordin Tucker on YouTube

Peyton Manning made Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas practice this stupid celebration.

"He actually planned that himself," Demaryius Thomas said at the time. "He came to me, it was either Thursday or Friday, [and said], 'If anybody scores 509, this is what we should do.' So he came to me and said, 'Keep the ball away, hop-scotch or whatever.' I was like, cool. So we got everybody in on Friday and we practiced it, and it happened tonight."

If you don't think he's orchestrating this Peyton Is A Jolly Teammate campaign, then I don't know what to tell you.

--It's pretty amazing that even this can't stop Chandler Jones from a strip sack.

Chandler Jones
(Screen shot from

--Jabaal Sheard has been an absolute monster for the Patriots this season, but he outdid himself on Sunday when he was able to not just burn past left tackle Taylor Lewan en route to sacking Zach Mettenberger, but also by ninja kicking Lewan in the face while doing it.

Jabaal Sheard
(Screen shot from

That is some next-level athleticism.

Also, I think with the No. 1 overall pick, the Titans might want to take a left tackle.

--That sack came on the final play of the second quarter, and that actually made bookends for Sheard, who started the quarter by flying into the backfield, then out of the backfield to tackle the ball carrier.

Jabaal Sheard
(Screen shot from
Jabaal Sheard
(Screen shot from

--File this one under "Little Things," but those little things are often what can make the subtle difference between a championship team and a bad team. In this instance, the "Little Things" Award goes to Patrick Chung, Malcolm Butler and Leonard Johnson, for recognizing the down-and-distance and flying to the football in order to get the ball back to Tom Brady.

In Chung's case, it came against Anthony Fasano, who's got five inches and 40 pounds on Chung. Nevertheless, Chung broke from here:

Patrick Chung
(Screen shot from

Chung wrapped up Fasano and stood him up, not allowing one inch. The Titans gained nothing on the next play and had to punt.

Patrick Chung
(Screen shot from
Patrick Chung
(Screen shot from

Later in the second quarter, Butler and Johnson sped to prevent Antonio Andrews from picking up a first down.

(Screen shot from

Butler held him up and Johnson came over the top.

(Screen shot from

The Titans went for it on fourth-and-short didn't make it.

Little things.

--Forgive me if I'm supposed to know who that was sitting next to Robert Kraft ... but was it not Barack Obama?

Robert Kraft
(Screen shot from

--I've seen Tom Brady throw about 400 million passes at this point (rough estimate), but I thought for a brief moment that his pass to Rob Gronkowski early in the second half was the single best pass of his career. (Only slight hyperbole intended.) Brady dropped back, backpedaled toward the left sideline a bit, and then put what I thought was the perfect amount of touch to loft the ball over the linebacker and hit Gronkowski in the chest, 28 yards away. It was magnificent, but Gronkowski dropped it. Or so I thought.

Slow-motion, high-definition replay showed that Daimion Stafford got a finger tip on the ball just a few feet before it reached its intended target, thereby disrupting the path just enough for Gronkowski to not be able to make the catch.

Daimion Stafford
(Screen shot from

The moral of this story is that it was still a nice pass. Just needed one more inch.

--The Patriots are famously the most well-prepared, well-coached team in all the land. So I found it pretty funny that when Malcolm was asked to explain the differences between Marcus Mariota and Zach Mettenberger, he said this:

"I don't know too much about the backup. But I guess they're different. They're different quarterbacks."

I suppose at corner, you can get away with that, as you can really expend all your focus on just covering your man. But it was still kind of humorous.

--All right, let's go ahead and end this thing with the only play that really mattered.
Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.