FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The last time the Tennessee Titans visited New England, the Patriots sent them home with a 59-0 loss.
This one could be just as competitive.
The Titans (3-10) are already working with an interim coach and looking ahead to a high pick in the NFL draft with three games to go in the regular season. The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (11-2) are looking to wrap up a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“They will expose you if we don’t come ready to play or have that energy,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. “I hope these guys know that.”
The Titans have lost five straight to New England, including a 2004 playoff game. That was perhaps the only one more painful than the 59-point shutout in 2009 that dropped Tennessee to 0-6.
Interim coach Mike Mularkey, who took over when Ken Whisenhunt was fired on Nov. 3, said he will guard against his young team feeling in awe of Tom Brady and the four-time Super Bowl champions.
“If you do that, you’re going to get yourself embarrassed,” Mularkey said. “They can do that on the sideline. They can watch all they want like the rest of us, but they’re going to have a plan” on the field.
Here are some other things to look for in Sunday’s game:
AT STAKE: The Patriots clinched their record-tying seventh straight AFC East title on Monday night when Miami lost to the New York Giants. The Patriots could do no worse than finish tied with the New York Jets for the division crown, but they hold the edge based on the fifth tiebreaker, “strength of victories.”
New England would earn a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs with a victory on Sunday and a Broncos loss. The Patriots would also sit out the first round of the playoffs if they win, Denver ties Pittsburgh and Cincinnati loses to San Francisco.
IN WITH THE NEW: The Patriots signed running back and former Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball to the practice squad this week. They also claimed wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who was released by Atlanta, and offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, released by Detroit.
Out for the Patriots this week: running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive lineman Dominique Easley.
They’re the latest to be lost for the season.
Earlier, it was Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman and enough offensive lineman to force a complete reshuffling of the corps that is supposed to protect Brady. Edelman could return this weekend.
WATCH MARIOTA: Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has scored a touchdown by passing and rushing, and last week he added a new wrinkle with a 41-yard TD reception.
The Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon is second on the roster in rushing and has run for his two TDs in the past month. He needs 214 yards passing for 3,000 yards this season, which would make him the first Tennessee quarterback to reach that mark since 2011.
SACK BRIGADE: With Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan out with an injured shoulder, that’s allowed offenses to better focus on defending linebacker Brian Orakpo. The three-time Pro Bowler has seven sacks this season but hasn’t had one since Morgan left the lineup, and Tennessee has managed only four sacks in that span. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is Tennessee’s other best pass rush threat with six sacks himself and 24 quarterback pressures.
STREAKING: The Patriots have beaten the Titans five straight, including a 17-14 divisional playoff victory in January 2004. Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey is 0-5 vs. Patriots and Bill Belichick. The Patriots have outscored the Titans 133-59 over the past three games in this series.
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