FOXBOROUGH — Through five games this season, and despite injuries to key players, the Patriots’ offense appears to be in full bloom. What else can you parse from Sunday’s 31-21 shredding of the Broncos? It was a dominating display, helped almost entirely by its offensive efficiency and cherry-topped with a timely defensive turnover.
Here’s some things to consider when looking back at this game:
1) This well-oiled machine depends on balance — Prior to Sunday’s game, all the hype was about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Sure, those two are future Hall of Famers and deserving of the attention. They both earned it Sunday with stellar outings, too. But the Patriots don’t control the clock without 251 yards rushing. They don’t get a franchise-record 35 first downs without the 18 they got on the ground. This is a dangerous offensive unit with Brady at the helm already, but it is a much scarier one with the running attack so powerful. The Patriots had 444 yards of offense to the Broncos’ 404. There’s a reason the Patriots were able to hold off the Broncos, and it wasn’t all because of Brady’s arm.
2) Alfonzo Dennard makes a decent debut — Without checking the film, Dennard had a very successful outing in his first NFL game. The seventh-round pick out of Nebraska recorded a tackle and had a huge pass-defensed in the second quarter. Dennard had come on for Sterling Moore in the nickel package and on his first series was tested by Manning. He broke up a pass intended for Brandon Stokley and proceeded to contribute for the rest of the game, sometimes at the expense of Moore and, for one series, at the expense of Devin McCourty. It’ll be interesting to see what his contributions will be like when safety Steve Gregory returns.
3) Rob Ninkovich re-introduced himself — Four tackles, two forced fumbles, a 6-yard sack, and another hit on the quarterback should tell you a lot about Ninkovich: never write him off. While Chandler Jones has deservedly gotten the majority of attention, offenses still have to be concerned with Ninkovich. He has 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks this season.
4) Stevan Ridley has more good than bad, that’s for sure — Ridley rushed for a career-high 151 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown. He also had a fumble, an unfortunate turnover that put the Patriots’ lead in jeopardy. Lucky for the Patriots, another turnover (forced by Ninkovich) helped seal the win. But Ridley has proven over five games this season that he’s dependable. It was his second fumble in 103 touches. Over the course of the season, Ridley has topped the 100-yard threshold every time he’s carried the ball 21 times or more, including in wins against Tennessee, Buffalo, and now Denver. The Patriots are 3-2. Certainly Ridley needs to work on his ball security, but it’s imperative the Patriots keep giving him the ball.
5) Some small bites — It was the first time since 2007 that a Patriot running back had back-to-back 100-yard games. Laurence Maroney was the last to do it … Sunday’s game was the first time in NFL history that two quarterbacks entered the game with more than 300 career touchdown passes. Brady has 308, Manning has 410 … Wes Welker caught a personal-best nine passes in the first half. He finished with 13, his 15th career 10-plus reception game. He also passed Troy Brown for most career receiving touchdowns as a Patriot with 32. … Tavon Wilson made his first NFL start. He was subbing for the injured Steve Gregory.