Final: New England 16, Denver 3
The Denver defense fought valiantly, but in the end they did not produce enough pass rush and were outplayed by the Patriots at Sports Authority in a 16-3 loss. It is easy to draw comparisons between this game here and the AFC Championship contest a season ago, but we are not going to do that. Let’s break down this contest as its own entity.
The Denver offense was stuck in the mud for most of the game, especially in the second half. They managed only five first downs after the midpoint of the second quarter and the offensive line was not very good. Trevor Siemian did not have a lot of time to scan the field, and it did not help that the Pats had excellent coverage throughout the game. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were bottled up by Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Eric Rowe and did not have much of an impact in the game. After a promising start in the first quarter, Justin Forsett was pretty silent for the second straight week. Denver’s inability to run the ball really handicaps this offense, one that relies heavily on play action and bootlegs with the quarterback. Siemian did try a couple of rollouts, but the New England pass rush and linebackers were quick to sniff them out and give him a tough time trying to find outlets. Former Patriot A.J. Derby was probably the most consistent target in the game Demaryius Thomas finished with seven catches for 91 yards, but a lot of that came in garbage time. A lack of a run game and decent pass protection really dragged down this Devner offense.
The New England offense was nothing special in this contest, but their offensive line was remarkable. Facing the talented Denver “D”, the game plan was to run the ball and not allow the Broncos to hit Tom Brady all that much, and this worked. They ran the ball 38 times and Dion Lewis nearly cranked out a 100 yard game. LeGarrette Blount found the end zone for his 15th time this season, the most any back has this year and also in New England franchise history. Marcus Cannon did a heck of a job containing Von Miller. Miller was a virtual non-factor as he was chipped and double-teamed a majority of the game, but even the plays where he was not in two on one situations, Cannon was very good against him. Tom Brady did tie a career worst start to a game missing on his first six passes, but he did eventually settle down and connect with Julian Edelman who was great against the man-coverage employed by Wade Philips’ “D”. The Patriot offense was not spectacular, but it did not have to be since their defense was lights out.
Credit certainly has to go to the New England secondary in this game. Eric Rowe made a couple of nice plays on PBUs. Malcolm Butler completely blanketed Emmanuel Sanders as well. Logan Ryan picked off a Trevor Siemian pass on the first play of the second quarter and brought it back 42 yards to thwart a Denver scoring chance. The D-line of New England was pretty good as well. They threw a lot of stunts at a struggling Broncos’ offensive line and were able to get home with three sacks, two of which went to the second year budding star, Trey Flowers who was a force in the middle of the field. Not only did Logan Ryan have an excellent interception (with a fantastic read and break on the ball), but he also lead the team in tackles with seven unassisted. The New England defense, which was very much the weak point of the team heading into this game, turned in their best effort of the season and really put a dagger in the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
The Denver defense did everything a fan could have wanted them to outside of getting significant pressure on Tom Brady and stopping the run. That sounds like a lot of failure, but considering the way the Pats have been able to rip through opposing secondaries this season, the Broncos were great against the pass. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris were solid in their coverage and the Denver “D” allowed just one play over 20 yards in this game, a 34 yard completion to Martellus Bennett in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, they really limited the opportunities that New England had with some great zone coverage and a mix-in of the occasional press. Jamming the Pats’ wide-outs was effective and the held Brady to a lowly 188 yards on a 50% completion clip. Shane Ray accounted for one of the two Denver sacks and forced a fumble. He and Todd Davis were the best players on defense after watching this game. Davis did a great job filling in for Brandon Marshall at the Mike linebacker spot as he was in on 13 different tackles (seven unassisted). Jared Crick was responsible for the other sack and really flourished with a lot of attention being focused on Von Miller. DeMarcus Ware did not have a great game as he was unable to win a lot of his battles on the outside and failed to create much pressure against Tom Brady in this one.
The Patriots improve to 12-2 after a healthy 13 point win in Denver where their defense dominated. This is important because earlier in the year it was easy to point out the New England defense as a major flaw and the reason why this team would not win the Super Bowl. Now with this game, and their effort over the past couple of weeks, it is easy to see that they have turned the corner and could be a force against any team if their secondary is able to shut down their opposing receivers the way they did in this contest. For the Broncos, this is their second straight game where their defense was solid but the offense failed. Last year when they made their run to the Super Bowl, their offense wasn’t the greatest, but they were at least able to run the ball. This year, that is not something this team can lean on and hence why they are now 8-6 and fighting for their playoff life. Denver will hit the road and take on Kansas City in a must-win game next week on Christmas day. The Patriots, in the meantime, have locked up the AFC East and a first round playoff BYE and will host the Jets next week with a chance to lock up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. This was a dominant win for the Pats, and one they can build on as they hope for yet another Super Bowl run.
- The New England offensive line holds up well as Tom Brady is only sacked twice in 32 dropbacks. The running game for the Patriots really got cranking as well as the team ran it 37 times for 137 yards.
- The Patriots corners were terrific in coverage completely shutting down both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in this game. Denver’s greatest output in the passing game came from their tight ends.
- LeGarrette Blount hammered his way into the end zone for his 15th time this season, a New England franchise record. The Patriots were also able to secure a first round BYE and another win of the AFC East title with this victory.
- The Bronco offensive line was pushed around in this contest. Denver was unable to run the ball yet again and that really took away from the play action pass opportunities that a Gary Kubiak offense is predicated on.
- The Denver pass rush was not much of a factor in this game which was a shame because the coverage on the back end was fantastic. The Broncos’ secondary was very good in this game.
- A Jordan Norwood muffed punt in the first quarter as well as a Trevor Siemian interception really hampered the Broncos as they contributed to a (potential) 10 point swing. The Patriots were +3 in the turnover battle.