Patriots vs. Titans takeaways: Instant analysis of Pats' sixth straight win

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Patriots-Titans takeaways: Turnovers propel Pats to AFC East lead, No. 2 seed originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots are absolutely rolling, and the Tennessee Titans were not able to halt that momentum in Sunday's Week 12 game at Gillette Stadium.

A dominant second half helped the Patriots beat the Titans, 36-13, to extend their win streak to six games. New England outscored Tennessee 20-0 in the third and fourth quarters combined.

The Patriots improve to 8-4 with the victory, vaulting them into first place in the AFC East and the No. 2 seed in the conference (more on that below).

Next up for the Patriots is a showdown with the division rival Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football" in Week 13.

Before we look ahead to that exciting matchup, here are four takeaways from Patriots-Titans.

1) Starting out fast

One area where the Patriots have shown tremendous improvement in recent weeks is scoring early in games. They went right down the field Sunday and scored a touchdown on their first drive.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones connected with wide receiver Kendrick Bourne in the back corner of the end zone.

It was the sixth opening-drive touchdown for the Patriots since Week 5, which is the most of any team in the league, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. The Patriots had zero opening-drive touchdowns in their first four games.

Putting opponents in an early hole is a tough situation for quarterbacks going against an elite defense like the Patriots' -- a unit that entered Sunday allowing the fewest points per game. Opening up a lead early in the game also allows the Patriots to wear teams down with their power running game, which chews up a lot of clock as well. 

Continuing this early-game success offensively will be crucial to the Patriots' chances of finishing the regular season strong and then making a deep playoff run in January.

2) Turnover machine

The Patriots defense has done a great job forcing turnovers this season, and that success continued in a huge way against the Titans.

New England tallied four takeaways. Two of them were forced by cornerback J.C. Jackson. He pried the ball loose from Titans running back D'Onta Foreman in the third quarter and intercepted quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the end zone during the fourth quarter.

Jackson leads the Patriots with seven interceptions -- one behind Cowboys star Trevon Diggs for the league lead.

The Patriots, as a team, have 25 takeaways through 12 games. They've already exceeded last season's total of 21. One of the keys to the Patriots' turnaround over the last month-and-a-half has been winning the turnover battle. They've forced 17 turnovers during their six-game win streak.

New England's defense has been a dominant unit in many facets this year, and forcing turnovers is at the top of that list.

3) Kendrick Bourne proving his worth

Kendrick Bourne's importance to the Patriots passing attack grows with each game, and he played a major factor in the outcome Sunday.

The veteran wide receiver got his team on the board in the first quarter with a sweet touchdown catch over talented Titans safety Kevin Byard. Bourne scored again in the third quarter on a 41-yard reception. He caught a pass in the middle of the field, evaded multiple defenders and stayed in bounds along the sideline on his way to the end zone.

This score put the Patriots up, 26-13.

Bourne finished with five receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on six targets. He leads the Patriots with 623 receiving yards through 12 games. His five touchdown receptions are the most among Pats wideouts. 

The Patriots spent big money in free agency to add better weapons to their offense. One of those signings was Bourne, who has developed great chemistry with Jones. Bourne's consistency has been a critical component to New England's success on offense in 2021.

4) Patriots in great position in AFC playoff race

The Patriots have leapfrogged the Buffalo Bills for first place in the AFC East as a result of their win over the Titans. They've also jumped the Titans in the standings to claim the No. 2 seed.

Both New England and Tennessee have 8-4 records, but the Pats now own the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Patriots also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over a few other teams in the AFC playoff picture, including the Los Angeles Chargers and Cleveland Browns.

The Pats could move up all the way to the No. 1 seed if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Browns on Sunday night. Both the Patriots and Ravens would have 8-4 records in that scenario, but New England owns the conference record tiebreaker.

It's remarkable how far the Patriots have risen in the standings over the last month-and-a-half. It wasn't too long ago that New England was 2-4 and people were looking ahead to the team having a top 10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Now the Patriots are the hottest team in football and looking more and more like a legit contender in the AFC with each passing week.

With an elite defense, an effective rushing attack and an accurate quarterback, the Patriots have many of the necessary ingredients for winning in the playoffs.