Finally, they were 60-minute men
Playoff win was a complete success
FOXBOROUGH - All season, the Patriots were lamenting the lack of a 60-minute showing. Bad starts and a bad defense were typically to blame, but New England players were vocal heading into Saturday night’s AFC divisional playoff game with the Broncos about their desire to string together a strong effort, from beginning to end.
After a 35-point first half and a 45-10 victory, they seemed to be pleased with the results.
“We were looking for this all year, and what a great time to put it together,’’ said Vince Wilfork. “Not everything was perfect, but at the same time the team started fast and finished. That is one thing that we have been preaching all year.’’
Instead of digging early holes - 16-7 at Denver, 17-0 to Miami, 21-0 to Buffalo in the last three regular-season games - the Patriots were the aggressors this time. They took the opening kickoff and scored five plays in, then added four more touchdowns before halftime.
Getting a faster start might have been hammered home by the coaching staff, receiver Deion Branch said, but that can only go so far.
“Trust me, those weeks we started bad, we had great weeks of practice,’’ Branch said. “The coaches can’t play the game. We have to take ownership on our own and execute the plays. We went out [Saturday] and had a couple of good drives.’’
Getting one 60-minute game was good enough to blow out the Broncos. By all indications, the road gets tougher, with Baltimore visiting Gillette Stadium Sunday for the AFC Championship game.
“Coming out, having energy, playing from beginning to end, I think this is probably the closest [we’ve come],’’ cornerback Devin McCourty said. “This time in the year, it’s all about having another day to come into work.
“Now we get to come back and practice again next week. It’s all about going forward.’’
It didn’t seem significant at the time because the Patriots were leading, 42-7, but the third-quarter fumble by Stevan Ridley was the first time in almost two months that the Patriots had lost a fumble. The last had been against Kansas City Nov. 21. The Patriots had fumbled five times since then, but recovered them all.
Including a first-quarter interception by Tom Brady, New England also lost the turnover battle for the first time in nine games. The Patriots had two turnovers, the Broncos one. The last time the Patriots had more turnovers in a game than their opponent was Nov. 6, when they turned it over four times in a 24-20 loss to the Giants, who had two. It’s also the last time the Patriots have lost.
We’ll see if Ridley’s fumble affects his playing time. A rookie from Louisiana State, the lost fumble - his first of the year - marked the last time Ridley touched the ball. It came on a third-down pass play from Brady that gained 4 yards, and followed two rushes from Ridley that gained 17 yards. Four Patriots - BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Lousaka Polite, and Aaron Hernandez - received carries after Ridley’s fumble.
The Patriots have taken excellent care of the football, one of the main reasons they’ve won nine straight games. During the win streak, they’ve committed just five turnovers, and forced 21.
It really rated
The Patriots-Broncos game delivered a 20.6 overnight rating to CBS, making it - for the moment - the highest-rated prime-time divisional playoff game in 11 years. Because of the lopsided score, the ratings weren’t as high as some had predicted; in fact, it wasn’t even the most-watched game of the day. The 49ers-Saints game pulled in a 21.7 rating. Both Saturday games may have been eclipsed by yesterday’s Giants-Packers game . . . It took three tries, but Chad Ochocinco finally has a playoff victory, after losing both games while with Cincinnati. He can’t say he had a whole lot to do with it, though. Ochocinco was on the field for exactly one snap, a first-quarter pass play that targeted somebody else. Ochocinco had averaged 36 snaps in the last three regular-season games, and was on the field for 54 offensive plays against the Broncos in Denver, catching his only touchdown pass of the season . . . Of the Patriots’ 66 offensive snaps, Logan Mankins was on the field for 39, playing for the first time since suffering a knee injury Dec. 24. Mankins started at left guard, but sat out a few series, presumably by design to lighten his workload . . . Offensive assistant coach George Godsey will join Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s staff at Penn State, according to multiple reports. Godsey will be the Nittany Lions’ quarterbacks coach.