The New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 34-31 Sunday night.

While the team did get the victory, they still have a lot of work to do moving forward. Here is my report card for week twelve. –

Offense Grade: C +

The first half was abysmal for the offense. The second half on the other hand, was a whole different story.

The team’s first possession started with promise, as the unit moved down the field with a solid drive. Running back Stevan Ridley’s fumble, not only ended the drive, but the Broncos scored a touchdown on the return. Their next drive ended almost as fast as it started, with Broncos defensive end Von Miller beating Pats left tackle Nate Solder cleanly, strip-sacking Tom Brady from the blindside. Denver scored just a few plays later.

To that point in the game, the Patriots were down 14 points and it reminded me a lot of the 2009 playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. Similar to that contest, New England found themselves in a deep hole early and everything that could go wrong, seemed to.

The Patriots played some of their worst football to start the game, but came back with a strong second half to ultimately win the game in overtime. At halftime, I tweeted –

 

They did just that.

New England’s first five drives in the second half ended with points on the board; four consecutive touchdowns and then a field goal after stalling in the red zone. Brady was sharp and played with the fire Patriots fans have grown to love over his illustrious career. He finished the game with 344 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.


Patriots running back Shane Vereen will see an increased workload after fumbles by Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount Sunday night.
(USA TODAY Images)

There are plenty of nitpicks, however, the offensive line play, dropped passes, play calling, fumbles, but how the team regrouped and responded was much more impressive when it was all said and done. The offense has found it’s stride the past few weeks.

Defense Grade: C -

The Broncos scored 24 points in the first half, but that wasn’t all on the defense. In fact, the Pats offense really shot the team in the foot right off the bat and put the defense in a bad spot.

The game plan defensively was to concede the run and stop the pass. Luckily, the weather helped bog down the Denver’s passing attack as well.

While the Patriots did win, that doesn’t excuse 280 yards on the ground from a mediocre Broncos running game. The most troubling aspect of the game from a defensive perspective was how Denver’s offensive line dominated New England’s defensive line — especially the interior with rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano — at the point of attack.

It’s not like Knowshon Moreno and the Broncos running backs racked up cheap yardage, they consistently gashed the Pats defense and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Plain and simple, that has to improve moving forward.

With all that being said, the Patriots are so banged up on defense it’s ridiculous. At one point, the unit had seven of eleven opening day starters off the field. The secondary, which had played great to start the year, is the most hobbled. How far the Pats go in the playoffs may depend on the health of Aqib Talib, Alfonso Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Steve Gregory.

One positive was the play of three Patriots rookies, linebacker Jamie Collins, safety Duron Harmon and cornerback Logan Ryan. Collins and Harmon stepped up and played solid, while Ryan continues to make plays. His development over the course of the season has helped alleviate the injuries to the cornerback position. It’s fun to watch.

Special Teams Grade: A 

The Patriots have played exceptional on special teams nearly the entire season and that continued Sunday night. In fact, Nate Ebner recovered the game winning muffed-punt in overtime that led to an easy Stephen Gostkowski 31-yard field goal.

Gostkowski made both field goal attempts, which brings him to a tremendous 26-of-27 on the season . His strong kickoffs have added to an exceptional performance this season.

Also, rookie punter Ryan Allen had some solid punts in the contest, which helped keep the field position battle in New England’s favor. With the strong wind gusts throughout the night, it made his job very difficult.

On Ryan’s final punt in overtime, the ball hung up in the air for 5.08 seconds, which was a key reason Denver had so many players near the football when it landed and hit defensive back Tony Carter before being recovered by the Patriots. Great job by the coverage units.

Overall Grade: B

Overall this was a very good win for the Patriots.

This was a game of two halves. While the offense and defense didn’t play great through the night, both units made key plays and the team got contributions from all three phases for the biggest win of the season.

New England has done a great job overcoming off-field adversity and injuries throughout the year. It’s incredible to see this team battle week-to-week and win in different ways. The win on Sunday night showed heart and this kind of performance can build into a playoff run. Late November is when a team typically gets hot and marches deep into the playoffs, the Patriots look poised to be that team this season.

The Pats now holds a 8-3 record and now goes on the road to face the 2-9 Houston Texans in week thirteen. Be sure to check back for my pre-game thoughts later in the week.

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