By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 25, 2006

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FOXBOROUGH -- The sick thing is that everyone in the state of Colorado knows this is coming.

Check the Bronco schedule. See the Patriots on Week 3. "Yup, put that one in the win column!", their fans say. And that's before they see when they play the Raiders.

It's becoming too routine, too galling, too aggravating. The Patriots would just as soon never play the Broncos again for another fifty or so years, yet they keep drawing them on their schedule. And once again, the Patriots continue to bring their "C" and "D" game to the table when the Broncos come calling. Nobody associated with the Patriots distinguished themselves at all Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, as the Broncos defeated the Patriots 17-7 in a game which the Patriots could have won but were too inept and too outclassed to do so.

From top to bottom, this game was all Denver. Even though the Patriot defense gave up only 17 points, and even though the Patriots gave up no sacks and committed no turnovers, the Patriots played like they always do against Denver. Part of it was Denver imposing its will, mostly defensively, on the Patriots, but in the end it was just another case of New England not matching up well and overall poor game execution.

One of the most basic tenets of winning football is "run the ball, stop the run". This right here was a huge chunk of why Denver was able to manhandle the Patriots. Tatum Bell, the latest in a seemingly endless chain of great Bronco backs, rushed for 123 yards on 27 carries. In contrast, Laurence Maroney had 12 carries for 18 yards and a 1.5 average. Corey Dillon was injured early on and only tallied 16 yards on five carries. As a team, the Patriots only rushed for 50 yards and a 2.4 yards per carry average.

The numbers barely begin to tell the story. Junior Seau made a few good plays here and there, but it was clear that the middle backers of the Patriot defense were being pushed around by the lightweight but effective Bronco offensive line. Foxborough's Tom Nalen was called twice for holding Vince Wilfork, but that turned out to be inconsequential.

As for the other side of the ball, the Patriot offensive line looked pretty much uninspired in their run blocking. Denver may have been on a no-touchdown streak going into this game, but this was a run defense the Patriots could have dealt with. With Maroney and Dillon both over 150 yards rushing in the first two games combined, the two of them should have been able to make somewhat more of a dent in the Bronco front seven. Linebackers Ian Gold and D.J. Williams combined for 17 tackles, and these two men did a tremendous job in sealing off running lanes for the Patriots. But in the end, it was generally blocking without attitude.

The other chink in the Patriot armor which proved deadly was the secondary. Twice the defensive backfield was burned on long passes from Jake Plummer to former Packer Javon Walker. Just before halftime, on a 3rd-and-1 on the Patriot 32, Plummer play-faked and found Walker in one-on-one with Ellis Hobbs down the right sideline. Plummer lofted a soft fly which Walker was able to outleap Hobbs and grab for the score. This made it 10-0 at the half, but plenty of time for the Patriots to make a comeback.

That comeback would never materialize. Early in the fourth quarter, after four straight punting drives for the Patriots to open the second half, the Broncos were perched at their own 17, facing 3rd-and-6. Plummer lofted a touch pass towards the left sideline, and Walker was able to outleap Samuel to make the catch. James Sanders, coming over in cover-two to provide help, was no help at all as Walker was able to deke Sanders out of his jock and run past him en route to an 83-yard touchdown reception. It was 17-0 Broncos, and the Gillette Stadium crowd was totally deflated.

The Broncos came within 9:13 of a shutout, as they laid back and let Tom Brady lead the Patriots on an 80-yard drive for a touchdown, a drive which featured Brady hitting all ten of his passes, four of them to Doug Gabriel, the last of which was an 8-yard scoring toss. On this drive, the Broncos were laying off both the pass rush and the downfield coverage, and Brady was finally able to find open receivers.

But that would be it. Brady would finish 31 of 55 passing for 320 yards and a passer rating of 79.4. Many fans will be screaming over the loss of Deion Branch in this one, but the sad fact is that Brady's timing is still way off, and he was basically afraid to throw at Champ Bailey all night long, thereby taking away half of the field.

Even the coaching staff looked bad tonight. Once again, Mike Shanahan came up with a game plan which the Patriots could not deal with or adjust to. And in the fourth quarter, the playcalling for the Patriots was suspect at times. On the drive after the Patriot touchdown, with the Patriots at their own 8-yard line, Brady threw two low percentage long bombs on both second and third down instead of trying to just make first downs when desperation throws were not yet needed. And on their final possession, instead of kicking a 38-yard field goal, they went for it on fourth and one at the Denver 20 but Brady underthrew Troy Brown in a crowd to seal the win for Denver.

That last play might come with a caveat. Bill Belichick may have been afraid to go for the field goal which would have made it 17-10 with 1:07 left. Stephen Gostkowski had still another field goal attempt blocked earlier in the game, a 37-yard attempt in the second quarter. The lousy playing field may have contributed to the block, as Gostkowski slipped while planting his left foot, thus causing a low kick which was blocked by Dominique Foxworth. Gostkowski has now had two in a row blocked after nary a miss to begin the season, going back into the preseason.

Several breaks went against the Patriots in the game. The Patriot receivers were called for some questionable pass interference calls. But one play which turned out to be critical took place in the third quarter which, if it had been called correctly, could have allowed the Patriots to get back into the game and given the defense the turnover it badly needed to ignite the entire Patriot team.

With 7:02 left in the third quarter, the Broncos were at their own 20, first and ten. Plummer launched a deep pass over the middle to, of all people, his fullback, Kyle Johnson. He caught the ball, turned and made a football move (go look it up on the replay), then was clobbered by Eugene Wilson a split second later. The ball was jarred loose, took one bounce on the ground and was picked up by Tedy Bruschi. He rumbled all the way to the Denver 11 before pulling up thanks to whistles being blown. The play was blown dead at impact, the ruling being an incomplete pass.

There was nothing the Patriots could do. Johnson clearly made a football move before Wilson hit him. Officials this season have been told and supposedly trained to let plays like these go so they can be reviewed. Because the whistle blew, the play could not be reviewed. The play was clearly a fumble after the catch, and the Patriots were robbed.

But that play went Denver's way, like most every other play. Just like it always does when Denver meets New England. The Patriots simply have no answer for these guys. Even in Foxborough, where you cannot blame the altitude or the arrogant fans. Denver has the Patriots cold, and it's been that way for a long, long time.

So, when January rolls around, root for two teams: the Patriots and whoever is playing Denver. Should these teams meet again in the playoffs, do yourselves a favor and go skiing or something. You just know what will happen on the gridiron.


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