The Patriots didn’t belong on the same field as the Broncos in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
That’s the conclusion that jumps to mind after watching the Broncos trounce the Patriots, 26-16, on the coaches’ tape, a game that was much more one-sided than the final score would suggest.
Peyton Manning was masterful in the win, there’s no doubt about that. In a stretch from the late second quarter to the early fourth quarter, Manning completed 19 of 20 passes, including 12 straight.
But this wasn’t just about Manning getting the better of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The Broncos were clearly the more talented team, across the board.
Once Aqib Talib went down, undersized New England cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, and Kyle Arrington were absolutely helpless to cover the Broncos’ all-star cast of receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker, who combined for 16 catches, 245 yards, and a touchdown.
Young defensive linemen Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, and Joe Vellano, who were nowhere near the top of the Patriots’ depth chart to start the season, were completely dominated by the Broncos’ interior offensive line, while Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower often looked as if they were out of gas. Jamie Collins couldn’t hang with Julius Thomas, the former basketball player who had eight catches for 85 yards.
The Patriots’ offensive line, surprisingly shaky this year, couldn’t handle the Broncos’ physical, oversized front four, including 335-pound defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, 293-pound defensive end Malik Jackson, and 274-pound end Robert Ayers.
And Brady’s receivers, which often included fullback James Develin and blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui split out wide, couldn’t create any separation until the Broncos went to a prevent defense in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots would have had to play a perfect game just to have a chance, but they were physically dominated in almost every facet of the game. There’s no question, the better team won.
A review of the game after watching the coaches’ tape:
When the Patriots had the ball
■ Brady has struggled in recent playoff performances, and once again he was less than sharp on Sunday. He generally had good protection in the pocket, but some of his reads and decision-making were strange.
Why, on third and 3 in the first quarter, did he throw a deep fade to a tightly covered Matthew Slater (of all people) when he had Danny Amendola streaking underneath for a potential first down? Why did he throw a third-down slant to Austin Collie, also tightly covered, and not look at Hoomanawanui streaking wide open down the seam (the Rob Gronkowski special)?
Brady was 24 of 38 for 277 yards and a touchdown, but he went 12 of 17 for 155 yards and a touchdown on the final two drives of the game, when the Broncos were ahead, 23-3, and playing prevent defense.
And of course, Brady’s inaccuracy on deep balls to Julian Edelman and Collie thwarted any chance the Patriots had of being competitive.
■ The offensive woes were hardly all on Brady. The only way Edelman, Amendola, Collie, Aaron Dobson, and Hoomanawanui could create separation was through trickery. The Patriots were liberal with play-action, using it 12 times on 41 dropbacks, with five completions for 86 yards.
On one fake, the Patriots ran a one-man route with Edelman and kept nine players in to block (Brady’s pass was incomplete).
Dobson also showed tremendous route-running on his 27-yard catch, sprinting upfield and stopping on a dime for the catch. And Shane Vereen caught five screens and swing passes out of the backfield for 59 yards. But on straight dropback passes, Brady’s receivers couldn’t get open, and the offense stalled.
The Broncos played two-deep safeties for most of the game and alternated between zone and man coverage. The speed exhibited by linebacker Danny Trevathan in pass coverage was impressive, particularly in cutting down Edelman for a 1-yard gain before he could turn the corner.
■ The offensive line protected Brady fairly well — the Broncos blitzed Brady just five times on 41 passing plays — although Nate Solder and Logan Mankins picked horrible times to whiff on their blocks. But the run blocking was completely dominated by the Broncos, who often brought an extra defender into the box, even on obvious passing downs.
Center Ryan Wendell had a horrible time with Knighton, Dan Connolly consistently was overpowered by Sylvester Williams, and Marcus Cannon was handled several times by Ayers.
LeGarrette Blount had only five carries for 6 yards and didn’t play a snap in the second half, as the Patriots turned to Vereen and Stevan Ridley.Continued...