By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos on Saturday evening 45 – 10. The Patriots played well in all three phases of the game to blowout the Broncos in the divisional round. Here is my report card for this week. –
Offense Grade: A
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 rookie tailback Stevan Ridley has shown – despite his ability – he does have a fumbling issue. I feel Ridley is more of a threat to opposing defenses and has the skill set to make a play when he has the ball, but you have to think the coaching staff will lead towards Green-Ellis moving forward.
For the second time this season, it appeared as if the Broncos did not game plan for the second year Pats tight ends. Both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski had monster games, accounting for 18 of 34 total targets from quarterback Tom Brady during the contest. They combined for 14 receptions, 200 yards through the air – Hernandez added a team leading 61 yards rushing – and four touchdowns.
Tom Brady, who has struggled the majority of his career with Denver, had arguably the best post-season game of his hall of fame career. Brady seemed fired up and he was spectacular with the exception of one interception in the middle of the first quarter. He set a franchise playoff record with 363 yards and tied an NFL record with six touchdowns. It’s truly amazing to get the opportunity to watch him play for the Patriots week in and week out.
Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung showed why their presence is so valuable to the Patriots defense Saturday. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
Defense Grade: A –
The defensive performance was not perfect, but it was the unit’s best performance of the season. They were flying around and attacked the ball carrier. Poor tackling, an area the team has struggled with this season, was not an issue during the game.
New England’s defensive line was outstanding on Saturday. Vince Wilfork dominated Denver guards, Kyle Love was an animal and the line contained the potent Broncos rushing attack. Like many of you, I was worried about Andre Carter’s absence in this game, but the Patriots showed they can still be very strong up front.
Chung was a true difference maker for the defensive unit and made his presence felt early. He was constantly around the ball and showed why he is so valuable to the Patriots defense. Linebackers Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes were also flying all over the field as the unit caused Denver to have 14 plays of negative yardage during the contest.
Overall though, I would say the defense had a banner day and held the Broncos to only 252 total yards.
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 and Zoltan Mesko had another solid day, for the few moments their services were required during the game. Gostkowski hit a 20-yard field goal and Mesko’s two punts pinned Denver inside the 20.
On another note, Brady surprised everyone with a punt in the fourth quarter. His quick kick went for 48-yards and pinned the Broncos inside their 10-yard line; something we haven’t seen Brady do in seven years.
Overall Game Grade: A
I believe Saturday was one of the team’s best wins of the season. They played a complete game, with contributions from all three phases. The playoff atmosphere didn’t seem to faze the young New England squad and the team looked excited to play.
The team looked fresh, energized and healthy as they took the field; illustrating they could be a force to be reckoned with this year. After the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon, the Ravens will travel to face the Patriots next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
As Patriots Nation gears up for the AFC Championship game next week, we can all – at least for the moment – enjoy New England’s victory this past weekend.
Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!