Hats off to the Boys in Blue for their stirring 34-31 OT win over the Denver Horsefaces last night! Down 24-0 at halftime, Tom Brady put this team on his back, as the Pats outscored the Broncos, 31-7 in the second stanza. I'd venture it safe to say that this win washes away the bad taste from our mouths, left by that frustrating loss in Carolina. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: A tale of two halves. There was the 0-24 turnover plagued debacle, and the 31-7 second half mash. After putting up 55 points on the Steelers, moving the ball consistently against a very tough Carolina defense, and scoring over a point per minute against a good Denver defense, knifing through the cold and wind in the process, it's safe to say that the offense is back!!!!
1.) QB: For the third straight game, Tom Brady was outstanding. With the exception of a first quarter strip sack fumble, Tom, through no fault of his own, couldn't get untracked. Three fumbles in a row in the first quarter will do that to any QB, as the Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead. But oh, what a second half, as Brady showed how, drive, determination, and persistance pays. Though he opened the 3rd quarter having to play into the teeth of a howling wind, Tom led his team to 21 unanswered points. He accomplished this via an eight (8) play 80 yard drive in 3:39, a six (6) play 32 yard drive (following a Dane Fletcher fumble recovery) in 2:39, and a five (5) play 64 yard drive in 1:42. On those three drives, Brady completed 12 of 14 passes for 163 yards, and two TDs...as the Pats cut the Denver lead to a mere 24-21. Thereafter, Tom took advantage of a Peyton Manning pick, which gave him the ball at the Denver 30. He subsequently led the Pats to a go-ahead TD, and a 28-24 lead. For the game, Tom completed 34 of 50 throws for 344 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. The turnovers which had plagued the Pats in the first half now were being made by the Broncos in the second half...with a muffed punt in OT being the ultimate deciding factor: GRADE: A;
2.) RBs: As I've stated repeatedly in the past, no matter how many yards a RB rushes for, he is worthless if he's a fumbler. On their initial possession, the Pats appeared to be moving the ball crisply, when Ridley lost control of the football after being hit in the backfield on a running play. He then watched helplessly while Denver OLB Von Miller returned his fumble 60 yards, for Broncos' first score. This marks the third straight game that Ridley has dealt his team a serious blow with an untimely fumble. This play seemed to set the tone for this game in the first half...as Tom Brady followed with a fumble, setting up Denver's second TD...and RB LaGarrette Blount fumbled, setting up a Bronco's FG. These three fumbles spotted the Broncos a 17-0 lead. Brandon Bolden provided the lone bright spot for the RBs, rushing for 58 yards on 13 carries. Shane Vereen contributed 91 combined rushing and pass receiving yards...including 60 yards on 8 receptions. But, his bobble of a Brady pass in the 4th quarter nearly led to what may have been a game deciding interception. Folks...this fumbling needs to be brought to an immediate end: GRADE: D;
3.) OL: Another mixed bag performance by the Big Uglies. On several plays, Von Miller cleanly beat LT Nate Solder. One such play led to a Miller strip sack of Brady, and Denver's second TD of the game. The strength of the Denver "D" seems to lie in their two massive DTs, Terrence Knighton and Kevin Vickerson. They manage to keep offensive lineman off the Denver LBs, who make most of the defensive stops. For example, for most of the night, nobody seemed able to block Denver MLB Wesley Woodyard, who finished with a game high 15 tackles, included seven solos. It was Woodyard's hit on Ridley behind the line of scrimmage which forced the aforementioned Ridley fumble. Denver weak-side LB Danny Trevathan aso added 13 tackles, including six solos. Yet, in the second half, the OL by and large provided adequate protection, allowing Tom Terrific to work his magic. Still, the uneven, inconsistent performance of the OL is a major concern, as playoff time draws near: GRADE: C-;
4.) TEs & WRs: Another outstanding performance by Gronk, who blocked well, and had seven (7) receptions for 90 yards, including a TD. He also set up the Pats' second TD of the game by bowling over a Bronco's DB at the Denver 5 yard line, nearly getting the ball into the endzone. That play seemed to ignite the troops. As for the WRs, Julian Edelman did a fabulous Wes Welker impersonation, finishing with nine (9) catches for 110 yards, and two (2) TDs. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a 43 yard hook-up with Brady late in the third quarter, which set up the Pats' third TD of the game. Rookie Kenbrell Tompkins added six (6) catches for 56 yards, while Danny Amendola was the Invisible Man, with just three (3) receptions for 17 yards: GRADE: B+;
II. DEFENSE: When a team faces a multi-faceted attack offense like that of Denver, it is practically impossible to shut down every weapon. This is particularly true when the man at the controls is a great QB like Peyton Manning. Faced with a lesser of evils choice, BB wisely chose to try to take away Wes Welker and the Denver short passing attack. He did so by primarily employing nickel packages (4 defensive lineman, two LBs, and 5 DBs) and occasional dime packages (4 defensive lineman, one LB, and six DBs). Seeing this, Peyton Manning attacked the Patriots' "D" on the ground...resulting in the Broncos gaining 280 yards on 48 carries (5.8 yards per carry). But, the Patriots' schemes resulted in limiting Peyton to 19 completions in 36 attempts for a paultry 150 yards, two TDs, and an interception. Third down defense showed improvement, holding the Broncos to 9 conversions in 18 attempts.
1.) DL: Though the DL was able to disrupt the timing of the Denver passing attack by getting some pressure on Peyton Manning, they were gored by the Bronco's OL, and RB Knowshown Moreno. Moreno rushed for 224 yards on 37 attempts (5.3 yards per carry). But, he paid the price for being such a work horse, as he left the game with a deep ankle bruise. He would subsequently leave the Denver locker room wearing the dreaded walking boot, and with the aid of a crutch. Denver RB Montee Ball had a Stevan Ridley type night, finishing with 40 yards on seven (7) carries, but with one costly fumble after a short pass reception, which led to the Pats' second TD. Chandler Jones' red zone sack of Manning in the second quarter resulted in holding the Broncos to a FG, and kept the Pats within long distance hailing frequency, at 17-0. Rob Ninkovich was all over the field, finishing with 13 assisted tackles, to lead the team. But, DTs Joe Vellano and Chris Jones seemed to be consistently overmatched at the point of attack: GRADE: C-;
2.) LBs: Pity poor Brandon Spikes, who seemed to have bodies flying at him all night. For the game, he had nine (9) tackles, including three (3) solos, a TFL, and out-fought several players to recover the aforementioned Montee Ball fumble. Dont'a Hightower didn't have one of his better games. He appeared to play tenatively, before leaving the game with an injury. Fortunately LBs Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins had career games, with Fletcher contributing with seven (7) tackles (four (4) solos), and forced the Montee Ball fumble. Collins added ten tackles, including six solos, and had one TFL. Both Fletcher and Collins also did a good job in helping to stifle Denver's dreaded short passing attack: GRADE: B;
3.) SECONDARY: Aqib Talib bounced back from his terrible performance in Carolina, and, for the most part, shut down Denver WR Demaryius Thomas...holding him to just four (4) receptions for 41 yards, and a TD. Kyle Arrington did a good job defensing Wes Welker in the slot, holding him a pedestrian four (4) catches for 31 yards. Credit rookie CB Logan Ryan, who jumped an attempted Manning completion of a slant to WR Eric Decker, and picked Peyton off. The Ryan pick gave the Pats the ball at the Denver 30 yard line, early in the 4th quarter. It set up the Pats' go ahead TD, giving them a 28-24 lead. Rookie safety Duron Harmon had his most productive game as a Patriot, finishing with 11 tackles, including seven (7) solos...and doing an above average job in pass coverage. Though Devin McCourty didn't appear to do much on the stat sheet, he did a good job of patroling centerfield, preventing the deep pass. TEs continue to hurt the Pats' "D", as back-up Jacob Tamme was the Bronco's leading receiver, finishing with five (5) catches for 47 yards, and a TD: GRADE: A-;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: This group remains special, as it has all season. Credit Nate Ebert for alertly bouncing on the muffed fumble in OT. This came about as the result of a Ryan Allen skyscaper punt towards Wes Welker. Welker then appeared to make a late call to inform his punt return blockers of his intention to let the ball hit the ground, and for them to get away from that area. As a result, the ball hit the ground, and caromed off a helpless Denver player named Tony Carter, who was attempting to block for Welker on a return. Kudos to "The Ghost" once again, for nailing the game winning 31 yard FG, immediately thereafter. Excellent job of kick coverage on dangerous return men, Trinidad Holliday on kick-offs, and Wes Welker on punts. Another outstanding job of punt returning by Julian Edelman, who returned three punts, and averaged 13 yards per return: GRADE: A;
IV. COACHING: Can't blame the coaches all the time, if the players' don't execute. BB didn't fumble, Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley, and LaGerrette Blount did. By all accounts, BB did no scolding, swearing, or yelling during halftime. But, judging by how the Patriots came out of the lockeroom and performed in the 3rd quarter, some type of "bullying" must have taken place! Though I'm sure some adjustments were made at the half, it merely appeared that the Patriots just began to execute their offense better, while the Broncos became the team that kept on giving through turnovers. Obviously, something must be done to cure RB Stevan Ridley of his fumblitis. He's a talented RB, who has the potential to average 1200 plus yards on the ground per year. But, his bumbling and fumbling is going to result in a one way ticket out of New England, and perhaps out of the NFL. I don't know whether RB Brandon Bolden has Ridley's talent. But, he'll likely be starting next week in Houston. The OL must begin to play consistently better!! Though the Pats gave up a ton of yards on the ground, how many teams have you seen hold Peyton Manning to a mere 150 yards passing over four quarters...let alone five quarters? Brilliant defensive game plan by Matt Patricia and BB...especially with all the injuries that the Pats have been forced to deal with. Smart and gutsy decision by BB to take the wind in OT paid big dividends: GRADE: A-;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: The Logan Ryan pick of Peyton early in the 4th quarter put the Pats in the driver's seat;
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Tom Brady was, once more, Tom Teriffic. He clearly out-played the Horseface in this one. One has to wonder just how much the weather, or that high ankle sprain, affected Peyton's performance?
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331124017
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome. Goodnight y'all!! Enjoy this huge win!!