- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - The Tennessee Titans weren’t about to risk losing quarterback Marcus Mariota for the rest of their losing season.

So interim coach Mike Mularkey kept last year’s Heisman Trophy winner on the sideline instead when he hurt his right knee five minutes into the second quarter Sunday.

After all, there was little chance the Titans (3-11) would overtake the defending Super Bowl champions (12-2) even with Mariota. And they didn’t with backup Zach Mettenberger as the Patriots won 33-16 after going out to a 24-3 halftime lead.

“I don’t think it’s serious,” Mularkey said. “I’d rather err on the side of caution.”

Mariota was hurt on an 8-yard sack by Jamie Collins one play before Ryan Succop kicked a 49-yard field goal that made it 14-3. Mariota said he doesn’t expect to miss the rest of the season.

“I wanted to go back in right away,” said Mariota, who was more concerned with the stability of his knee than the pain. “The training staff felt if I wasn’t 100 percent it wouldn’t be good for me to go.”

Mariota completed 3 of 6 passes for 32 yards. Mettenberger, in his second NFL season, was 20 for 28 for 242 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“Marcus is the toughest kid I know,” Mettenberger said about when Mariota might return, “but in any situation, I’m going to prepare like I’m a starter.”

Tom Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns to help the Patriots (12-2) hold onto the top spot in the AFC. James White caught seven passes for 71 yards, including a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and Keshawn Martin had a 75-yard kickoff return to set up another score.

White was filling in at No. 1 running back, a job that had been held by Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount before they both sustained season-ending injuries. The big Patriots losses on Sunday were linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee), receiver Danny Amendola (knee) and safety Patrick Chung (hip).

All three left the game and did not return. No information about their conditions was immediately available.

“Guys are going out and guys are coming in,” Brady said. “You’re just trying to do what you can to be productive.”

The Patriots have won two in a row since stumbling to consecutive losses - their first two-game losing streak since 2012. Instead, they have recorded their sixth straight season with at least 12 wins.

“Twelve wins, that’s on the right track here,” coach Bill Belichick said.

Rob Gronkowski caught a 5-yard touchdown pass, and Akiem Hicks fell on the ball in the end zone after Jamie Collins’ strip-sacked Mariota for New England’s other TD.

The rookie quarterback was sacked to end the next drive, too. Mettenberger replaced him and completed 20 of 28 passes for 242 yards, two touchdowns - both to Delanie Walker - and two interceptions.

Walker had a 7-yard catch in the third quarter and then a 57-yard rumble down the right sideline with 7 minutes left in the game. Succop missed the extra point, leaving Titans with a 27-16 deficit.

But Brady led the Patriots to the Tennessee 23, and Stephen Gostkowski put one through off the upright to make it a two-touchdown game. After Collins intercepted Mettenberger and ran it back 51 yards to the Titans’ 16, Gostkowski added another field goal to clinch it.

Already mired in a lost season, with coach Ken Whisenhunt fired midway through the year, the only thing left for the Titans is to get Mariota some experience - and add a high draft pick like Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa to the roster. Mariota has already missed two games this year with a left knee injury.

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