Tennessee Coach Mike Vrabel has a 2-0 record against the Patriots, but his team will need a resurgence on Sunday in Foxborough against New England coming off a humbling loss to the Houston Texans. Wade Payne/Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This is not where the Tennessee Titans wanted to be looking ahead to a Sunday showdown with the resurgent New England Patriots.

Tennessee’s six-game winning streak is over and the Titans (8-3) have lots to clean up after a season-high five turnovers, four off interceptions by Ryan Tannehill, in a 22-13 loss to the Houston Texans.

They’ll still have to prove they can beat a team against which they are favored – two of their three losses are to teams with a combined one win at the time they played. But this is a banged-up and battered team that has used an NFL-high 82 players, desperately in need of a bye that remains a week away.

That bye comes after Sunday’s game against the Patriots (7-4).

New England might be just the opponent to keep the Titans focused on the task at hand rather than limping into the bye. They play well against good teams, as evidenced by a 7-0 mark against 2020 playoff teams. New England didn’t reach the playoffs in its first season without Tom Brady on the roster since 1999, but no team is playing better right now.

Even after the loss to hapless Houston, the Titans still have a bit of breathing room atop the AFC and the AFC South. The Patriots, though, are right behind the Baltimore Ravens (7-3) nipping at Tennessee’s heels.

Coach Mike Vrabel was clear that the Titans made plenty of unfortunate mistakes across the board Sunday.

“The fact that we were in that game fighting, swinging tells me a lot about our football team, our character,” Vrabel said Monday. “Nobody wants to be in that position. We have to do everything we can to avoid being in that type of position. But proud of the effort. We just have to be better.”

MAC JONES says he still communicates with former teammate Cam Newton, who is back with the Panthers. And with time off on the weekend, the Patriots quarterback said he was able to watch Newton’s return as Carolina’s starter in the Panthers’ Week 11 game against the Washington Football team.

“He played great in that game,” said Jones, who watched the NFL’s Red Zone on his I-Pad. “I know he’s enjoying it. He’s out there having fun.”

While the Panthers lost, 27-21, Newton played well, completing 21 of 27 passes for 189 yards. He threw two touchdown passes, and ran for another to account for all of the Panthers scoring.

Jones beat out Newton for the Patriots starting job, and the veteran was released prior to cut down day in August. Jones was glad to see a smiling Newton back out on the football field.
“When he was in there, he looked pretty good,” said Jones. “He’s doing a great job. I know he’s having fun.”

AFTER JEROD MAYO finished his second season coaching in the NFL last January, he interviewed for a head-coaching job.

After his third season, the Patriots’ inside linebackers coach just might take one.

Mayo, 35, reiterated his desire to become a head coach Monday during a video call with reporters. He was asked about being included on a recent list of the league’s top coaching candidates at NFL.com. Mayo insisted he’s committed to the Pats’ ongoing season, but indicated he could leave soon after it’s over.

“It’s definitely an honor. I definitely aspire to be a head coach in this league. At the same time, I would say I’m really focused on this season,” he said. “We’ll see what happens at the end of the year.”

Mayo has long been regarded as a strong, natural leader in New England, where he arrived as a first-round rookie in 2008 and was voted a captain by teammates in 2010. After two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title, Mayo hung up his cleats in 2016. Three years later, he joined Bill Belichick’s staff and became the fastest-rising assistant ever under Belichick.

Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley was also named to the same NFL.com list for candidates in future years. He was also asked about whether he aspires to become a head coach one day.

“Well, honestly I try not to get caught up in a lot of those things. Obviously, I’ve got aspirations professionally to grow like a lot of guys, but to be honest with you, I’ve always stuck with the recipe of just trying to focus on the job that I have, be where my feet are. That’s worked for me,” Caley said. “Try to be the best tight ends coach honestly that I can here. That’s what my focus has been on.”

BILL BELICHICK reacted Monday to the fact that the Patriots are in first place in the AFC East for the first time in more than a year since the Colts hammered Buffalo at home in an upset. The Patriots (7-4) lead the six-win Bills by a half-game.

“No, I didn’t really think about that,” he said. “We’ll just take it one day at a time here and get ready for Tennessee.”

Tennessee has won two straight against the Patriots, including a wild-card playoff game in Foxborough, Massachusetts in Jan. 2020. The Pats have yet to beat the Titans since Mike Vrabel, who won three Super Bowls in New England as a player, took over as coach in 2018. Belichick also addressed facing Vrabel, who beat him head-to-head in their first meeting, a 34-10 Titans win during the 2018 regular season.

“Mike has done a great job at Tennessee. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Mike, and certainly have a ton of respect for him when he was a position coach and as a head coach, for sure,” Belichick said. “It will be a big challenge and Tennessee is obviously is a good football team, one of the best teams in the league.

“We’ll do our best to get ready and be ready to go on Sunday. Mike does a great job, and other than when we play him I’m rooting for him. But not this week.”

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