The Tennessee Titans were far from it in Nashville on Sunday, and the result was a 34-13 whipping by the defending AFC champions.
The key play of the game came early in the second quarter. As Jake Locker dropped back to pass inside his own 10-yard line, he was stripped by Patriots super-rookie Chandler Jones. Dontae Hightower scooped up the loose ball and scampered home, putting the Pats up 14-3.
The play exemplified a frustrating day for the home team. It's difficult enough to beat New England without spotting them points. Locker played well on the whole, but two turnovers were more than the Titans could overcome.
Thanks to a putrid rushing day by Chris Johnson, the Titans couldn't play keep away from the Pats' offense. Despite his assurances that a slow preseason would evaporate into a storm of rushing yards, the Titans run game was a complete non-starter. Johnson finished the game with 11 carries for just four yards. He had seven carries for one yard or less.
The most troubling aspect of the game was not the loss. Everyone knew the first game would be an uphill struggle at best. The darkest moment of the game came when Locker was knocked out with a shoulder injury.
Locker tried to complete a pass to Nate Washington, only to have it stripped from him as he hit the ground. Despite the fact that the pass was clearly incomplete, replacement officials incorrectly ruled it a fumble. Locker tackled Devin McCourty and injured his left shoulder in the process. The fumble was later overturned on replay, rendering Locker's efforts moot
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports the Titans expect Locker back next week, though he likely has a separated left shoulder.
Matt Hasselbeck replaced him with the Titans trailing 28-10 in the fourth quarter, but could only manage a field goal, which wasn't nearly enough.
The Titans defense was not overrun by the Patriots, but didn't make many dynamic plays either. They finished with just one sack and no forced turnovers.
It wasn't the start the Titans dreamed of, but the loss was hardly unexpected. Tennessee still believes it can be a playoff-caliber team, but it's going to take Locker time to even out his game enough for the offense to produce at the level necessary to topple the elite of the NFL.
With a trip to San Diego looming next week, the Titans have little time tighten up the ship.