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Patriots ride new backfield trio to victory over Titans

Tom Brady tossed a pair of touchdown passes as the New England Patriots (12-2) cruised to a 33-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans (3-11) in Week 15. With Denver's loss to the Steelers Sunday, the Patriots have clinched a first-round playoff bye. This is their sixth year in a row. Here's what you need to know:

  1. The toothless Titans on the road aren't the stiffest test, but Sunday's performance suggests the Patriots will survive without LeGarrette Blount spearheading the backfield. Passing-down specialist James White had roughly half of Tom Brady's first-half passing yards and lost a 70-yard, second-half catch-and-run to a pass interference penalty on Keshawn Martin. Activated off the practice squad 24 hours earlier, rookie power back Joey Iosefa bulldozed a tackler on an impressive 15-yard gain and led the team with 51 rushing yards. Throw in starter Brandon Bolden, and the trio combined for 182 yards from scrimmage.
  1. Marcus Mariota never returned after tweaking his right knee on a second-quarter Jamie Collins sack, but the injury did not appear to be serious. Mariota was fitted for several braces and was seen jogging on the sideline shortly after the injury. The Titans might have simply exercised extreme caution after watching their offensive line struggle to keep heat off of the promising young quarterback in the first half. The pass protection will have to improve in 2016.
  1. New England's offense has been losing a key player every week since midseason, but the front seven on defense is as strong as it has been all season. Collins led the way with the sack and an interception. Jabaal Sheard has proven to be one of the offseason's savviest signings. Akiem Hicks has been this year's version of Akeem Ayers -- a pre-deadline trade acquisition playing a key role on a contender. This defense allowed just 58 yards, one third-down conversion and 2.0 yards per play while building a 24-3 halftime lead.
  1. The Patriots are used to several casualties per week at this point. Danny Amendola never returned after suffering a knee injury in the first half. Safety Patrick Chung took friendly fire from teammate Jon Bostic, who accidentally speared him in the hip while attempting a tackle on Delanie Walker's 57-yard touchdown. Returning from an MCL sprain, Dont'a Hightower suffered another knee injury in the second half.
  1. With Amendola hobbled, drop-prone Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell came through with his best game. He was strong after the catch on a crossing route, pinned a tough catch against his shoulder on a side reception and came through with a big 31-yard play to convert a third down in the fourth quarter.
  1. Rob Gronkowski beat overmatched linebacker Avery Williamson for a score, his 65th touchdown in 78 regular-season games. He nearly added a couple more touchdowns, but one pass was knocked out of his hands and the other led him too far out of bounds. Jerry Rice and Randy Moss are the only players in history with more receiving touchdowns through age 27. Gronkowski still has another year to bypass that duo.
  1. Mark Titans rookie Dorial Green-Beckham as a breakout candidate in 2016. Although the downfield playmaker struggled with mental mistakes for the majority of this season, he has gone over 100 yards in two of the past three weeks.
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