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Patriots-Broncos play of the game

January 17, 2012
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Situation: The Patriots were leading the Broncos, 21-7, with 2:06 left in the first half when they had first and 10 at their 39-yard line.

What happened: The Patriots came out in a rare traditional set with tight ends on both sides of the line. Quarterback Tom Brady (12) saw a man coverage look from the Broncos as both cornerbacks - Andre Goodman (21) and Champ Bailey (24) - were up on Deion Branch and Wes Welker, respectively, at the line of scrimmage. One of the keys to this play was the safety to Branch’s side, David Bruton (30). After aligning in a Cover 2 look (two deep safeties split the field in half), Bruton started to the middle of the field in a single deep safety coverage - he actually turned his back to Branch - but Bruton seemed unsure of the call because he looked at safety Rafael Bush. When Bruton saw Bush drop to Cover 2, Bruton turned around and ran to the sideline. By that time it was too late for him to provide deep help. Branch beat Goodman down the field - that is not supposed to happen with Branch slowed at 32 years old - and Branch then gave Goodman a slight veteran shove at the 30 to gain separation. Brady’s throw, released in 3.21 seconds against a non-effective four-man rush, was perfect, and the Patriots had a commanding 28-7 lead.

ON HIS GAME

Rob Gronkowski, tight end This could have gone to a host of players, but it’s impossible not to honor Gronkowski’s terrific game. He had three standout catches (two for touchdowns), broke two tackles, and again was devastating with his run blocks and work down the field for teammates.

OFF HIS GAME

Stevan Ridley, running back When you have five touches and you turn one of them over to the opponent, the coaching staff isn’t going to tolerate it, not even in a blowout. Ridley’s fumble sent him to the bench. The only question now is whether he’ll get off it because the Patriots could use his legs.

GREG A. BEDARD

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