By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon 41 – 23. After the Broncos came out running the ball down New England’s throat early, the Patriots made the necessary adjustments to get the victory. Here is my report card for week 15. –
Offense Grade: A
Chad Ochocinco had his first touchdown as a Patriot on Sunday. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
It’s amazing for the Patriots to put up the type of offensive numbers they have this season and still have areas where they can improve. To me, the running game is still an issue for this team and has been for weeks. BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks slow and the team is not giving the ball enough to rookie tailback Stevan Ridley. I know Green-Ellis is solid, but I would love to see Ridley carry for of the workload for the rest of the season. I feel he is more of a threat to opposing defenses and has the skill set to make a play when he has the ball.
One week after Rob Gronkowski had six receptions, 160 yards and two touchdowns, Aaron Hernandez had the best game of his young career. He finished the game with nine receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns. It appeared as if the Broncos did not game plan for the second year Florida TE, who seemed to pick up the slack left by Deion Branch who was inactive for the game. His performance highlighted just how many weapons New England has in their arsenal.
Tom Brady, who has struggled to this point of his career in Denver, had another fantastic game on Sunday afternoon. The future Hall of Fame signal caller seemed fired up and he was spectacular. He carved up the Broncos defense for over 300 yards and led the offense to their first 40 plus point of the season. It’s truly amazing to get the opportunity to watch him play for the Patriots week in and week out.
Defense Grade: B –
The defense had a rough start to the game, but the unit made strong adjustments after an abysmal first quarter. After allowing 167 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 15 minutes of game play, they contained the Broncos for the remaining portion of the contest.
The one aspect of the game that really bothered me, was the poor tackling. It seems the Patriots have struggled with some basic fundamentals throughout the season and this game was no different. With many teams running the ball more as the weather gets colder, the defense must do a better job setting the edge and wrapping up opposing players.
The loss of Andre Carter during the game was very significant. Reports are he will be placed on Injured-Reserve today and will be lost for the year with a quad injury. Mark Anderson came in and played exceptionally well, forcing a fumble and sacking Tim Tebow twice. I would expect Anderson to see an increase in playing time and perhaps the Patriots defense could be going with more of a 3-4 look for the rest of the season.
Special Teams Grade: A
This grade would be an A+, but the Patriots continue to struggle on kickoff and punt returns. I would love to see more of a threat in that area.
Stephen Gostkowski hit a pair of field goals in the second quarter and Zoltan Mesko had another solid day. Near the end of the first half, Denver return man Quan Cosby muffed a punt return and Dane Fletcher made a heads up play to recover the ball. This allowed the Patriots to add three points going into the break and the momentum carried into the third quarter.
Overall Game Grade: A-
I believe Sunday was one of the team’s best wins of the season. They played a complete game, with contributions from all three phases. Yes the game started ugly, but Patriots did a lot of things well. The atmosphere in Denver resembled a playoff game, and after the team got punched in the mouth by a red-hot opponent, their ability to adjust was outstanding.
With two weeks left in the regular season, New England finds themselves in the driver seat for the AFC’s top seed going into the playoffs. The next two games will be must wins and there will be plenty to discuss in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
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